Having a will and an estate plan makes passing along assets much easier for the family. Having necessary documents like a power of attorney and a health care power of attorney lets the family make decisions for a loved one, who has become incapacitated. These are estate planning basics, as reported by WKBN 27 in the article “Attorney recommends everyone have a will in place to prevent avoidable issues.”
Think of the will as a way to speak for yourself, when you have passed away. It’s the instructions for what you want to happen to your property, when you die. If there’s a will, the executor is responsible for carrying out your requests. With no will, a court will have to make these decisions.
Many people believe that if they don’t have a will, their spouse will simply inherit everything, automatically. This is not true. There are some states where the surviving spouse receives 50% of a decedent’s assets and the children receive the rest. However, the children could be offspring from outside the marriage. Not having a will, makes your estate and your family vulnerable to unexpected claims.
A will must contain certain elements, which are determined by your state’s laws and must be signed in the presence of two witnesses. Without the correct formalities, the will could be deemed invalid.
Lawyers recommend that everyone have a will and an estate plan, regardless of the size of your estate.
Young parents, in particular, need to have a will, so they can name a person to be guardian of their child or children, if they should both die.
Details matter. In some states, if you make a list and neglect to name specifically who gets what, using the term “children” instead of someone’s name, your stepchildren may not be included. State laws vary, so a local estate planning attorney is your best resource.
You should also be sure to talk with your spouse and your children about what your intentions are, before putting your wishes in writing. You may not feel totally comfortable having the discussion. However, if your intention is to preserve the family, especially if it is a blended family, then everyone should have a chance to learn what to expect.
Wills do become binding, but they are not a one-time event. Just as your life changes, your estate plan and your will should change.
Don’t neglect to update your beneficiary designations. Those are the people you named to receive retirement accounts, bank accounts or other assets that can be transferred by beneficiary designations. The instructions in your will do not control the beneficiary designation. This is a big mistake that many people make. If your will says your current spouse should receive the balance of your IRA when you die but your IRA lists your first wife, your ex will receive everything.
Here are the four estate planning documents needed:
- A will;
- A living will, if you need to be placed on life support and decisions need to be made;
- A healthcare power of attorney, if you cannot speak for yourself, when it comes to medical decisions;
- A durable power of attorney to make financial decisions, if you are incapacitated.
A local estate planning attorney can help you create all of these documents and will also help you clarify your wishes. If you have an estate plan but have not reviewed it in years, you’ll want to do that soon. Laws and lives change, and you may need to make some changes.
Reference: WKBN 27 (March 14, 2019) “Attorney recommends everyone have a will in place to prevent avoidable issues.”