Not Having a Will Should Scare You
Not Having a Will Leaves your Family with a Mess

Not Having a Will Should Scare You

For families of people who don’t have a will, dealing with their estate is an expensive, stressful and time-consuming experience. A will isn’t anything to be afraid of, says the Herald Journal in the article “It’s Halloween, do you have a will?” Here’s a list of things not to do that should be useful for anyone who doesn’t have a will yet.

Don’t procrastinate. You can keep on waiting until there’s a better time, but life has a way of happening while we’re waiting. Now is the time to do your will. For your sake, and your family’s sake, don’t put it off any longer.

This is not a do-it-yourself project. No matter how simple you think your estate is, it isn’t. A form that you download from a website may not be legal in your state. Nothing can replace the sense of security that sitting down with an experienced estate planning attorney can give to you and your family. You’ll know that your will is legally valid in your state, follows all the right steps and was created for your unique situation.

An estate plan requires more than a will. There are many other documents and strategies to consider. Chances are that you already have more than a few other accounts to consider, like an insurance policy, investment accounts and jointly owned accounts. For an estate plan to protect you and your family, you’ll need a power of attorney, health care power of attorney, a living will and possibly a trust. A qualified attorney will help you coordinate all of your assets and make sure everything is properly prepared.

Don’t set it and forget it. Your life changes, and so should your estate plan. There have been some large changes to the tax law in recent years, and a number of bills are now pending in Congress that may bring even bigger changes in 2020. Your family may have celebrated a marriage, welcomed a new child or experienced a loss. All of these issues require updates to your estate plan.

Don’t hide your will and estate planning documents. Having all of these documents prepared properly is step one. The next step is to make sure that your family members know where the documents have been stored and how to access them. They should not be in a safe deposit box, as those are usually sealed upon the death of the owner. If you don’t own a waterproof, fireproof safe, consider purchasing one. Then tell a trusted family member where it is.

If charitable giving is part of your life, make it part of your legacy. Making a charitable gift as part of your estate plan can be helpful in reducing your estate taxes. It also sends a positive message about philanthropy to your family.

Make an appointment with an estate planning attorney to create your will, establish protection for yourself and your spouse in case of incapacity and create a legacy.

A will is a start but not a complete estate plan.

Reference: Herald Journal (October 26, 2019) “It’s Halloween, do you have a will?”

Don’t Ask Heirs to Guess What You Wanted—Have an Estate Plan
Take Charge of Your Estate Plan so Your Heirs Don't Have to Guess What Your Wishes Are

Don’t Ask Heirs to Guess What You Wanted—Have an Estate Plan

With an estate plan, you can distribute your assets according to your own wishes. Without one, your heirs may spend years and a good deal of money trying to settle your estate, reports U.S. News & World Report in the article “5 Reasons to Make an Estate Plan.”

If there is no estate plan in place, including a will, living trust, advance directives and other documents, people you love will be put in a position of guessing what you wanted for any number of things, from what your final wishes would be in a medical crisis, to what kind of a funeral would like to have. That guessing can cause strife between family members and worry, for a lifetime, that they didn’t do what you wanted.

Think of your estate plan as a love letter, showing that you care enough about those you love to do right by them.

What is estate planning? Estate planning is the process of legally documenting what you want to happen when you die. It also includes planning for your wishes in case of incapacity, that is, when you are not legally competent to make decisions for yourself because of illness or an injury. This is done through the use of wills, trusts, advance directives and beneficiary designations on accounts and life insurance policies.

Let’s face it, people don’t like to think about their passing, so they postpone making an appointment with an estate planning attorney. There’s also the fear of the unknown: will they have to share a lot of information with the attorney? Will it become complicated? Will they have to make decisions that they are not sure they can make?

Estate planning attorneys are experienced with the issues that come with planning for incapacity and death, and they are able to guide clients through the process.

The power of putting wishes down on paper can provide a great deal of relief to the people who are making the plan and to their family members. Here are five reasons why everyone should have an estate plan:

Avoid Probate. Without a will, the probate court decides how to distribute your estate. In some states, it can take at least seven months to allow creditors to put through claims. The estate is also public, with your information available to the public. Probate can also be expensive.

Minimize Taxes. There are a number of strategies that can be used to minimize taxes being imposed on your heirs. While the federal estate tax exemption is $11.4 million per individual, states have estate taxes and some states impose an inheritance taxes. An estate planning attorney can help you minimize the tax impact of your estate.

Care for Minor Children. Families with minor children need a plan for care, if both parents should pass away. Without a will that names a guardian for young children, the court will appoint a guardian to raise a child. With a will, you can prevent the scenario of relatives squabbling over who should get custody of minor children.

Distributing Assets. If you have a will, you can say who you want to get what assets. If you don’t, the laws of your state will determine who gets what. You can also use trusts to control how and when assets are distributed, in case there are heirs who are unable to manage money.

Plan for Pets. In many states, you can create a Pet Trust and name a trustee to manage the money, while naming someone in your will who will be in charge of caring for your pet. Seniors are often reluctant to get a pet, because they are concerned that they will die before the pet. However, with an estate plan that includes a pet trust, you can protect your pet.

Take charge of your estate plan instead of letting the state decide.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (October 18, 2019) “5 Reasons to Make an Estate Plan”

Do Name Changes Need to Be Made in Estate Planning Documents?
Changing Estate Planning Documents When Beneficiary Changes Name

Do Name Changes Need to Be Made in Estate Planning Documents?

When names change, executing documents with the person’s prior name can become problematic. For example, what about a daughter who was named as a health care representative by her parents several years ago, who marries and changes her name? Then, to make matters more complicated, add the fact that the couple’s daughter-in-law has the same first name, but a different middle name. That’s the situation presented in the article “Estate Planning: Name changes and the estate plan” from nwi.com.

When a person’s name changes, many documents need to be changed, including items like driver’s licenses, passports, insurance policies, etc. So do your estate planning documents. The change of a name isn’t just about the person who created the estate plan but also to their executors, heirs, beneficiaries and those who have been named with certain legal powers through power of attorney (POA) and health care power of attorney.

It’s not an unusual situation, but it does have to be addressed. It’s pretty common to include additional identifiers in the estate planning documents. For example, let’s say the will says I leave my house to my daughter Samantha Roberts. If Samantha gets married and changes her last name, it can be reasonably assumed that she can be identified. In some cases, the document may be able to stay the same.

In other instances, the difference will be incorporated through the use of the acronym AKA—Also Known As. That is used when a person’s name is different for some reason. If the deed to a home says Mary Green, but the person’s real name is Mary G. Jones, the term used will be Mary Green A/K/A Mary G. Jones.

Sometimes when a person’s name has changed completely, another acronym is use: N/K/A, or Now Known As. For example, if Jessica A. Gordon marries or divorces and changes her name to Jessica A. Jones, the phrase Jessica A. Gordon N/K/A Jessica A. Jones would be used.

However, in the situation noted above, most attorneys to want to have the estate planning documents changed to reflect the name change. First, there are two people in the family with similar names. It is possible that someone could claim that the person wished to name the other person. It may not be a strong case, but challenges have been made over smaller matters.

Second is that the estate planning document being discussed is a healthcare designation. Usually when a health care power of attorney form is being used, it’s in an emergency. Would a doctor make a daughter prove that she is who she says she is? It seems unlikely, but the risk of something like that happening is too great. It is much easier to simply have the document updated.

In most matters, when there is a name change, it’s not a big deal. However, in estate planning documents, where there are risks about being able to make decisions in a timely manner or to mitigate the possibility of an estate challenge, a name change to update documents is an ounce of prevention worth a pound of trouble in the future.

Making changes to your estate plan is easy.

Reference: nwi.com (October 20, 2019) “Estate Planning: Name changes and the estate plan”