Everyone needs an estate plan, but many people put off making one. Often they think they won't need it for a while, and the demands of work and raising a family seem more pressing in the moment. Unfortunately, no one ever really knows when it's going to become crucial that they have an estate plan in place. The people for whom it's most essential to make an estate plan are the very ones with families whose needs they are working so hard to meet.
If you have a family, making an estate plan is the best way to make certain their future is secure. An estate plan provides for a guardian for your children, in the event that you're not able to care for them. An estate plan also provides for your family's future financial needs and can reduce the amount of taxes they'll need to pay on your estate. If you want to leave money or property to a favorite charity or friend, an estate plan is the only way to make sure it happens.
An estate plan also offers peace of mind. You have peace of mind, because you know your loved ones will be taken care of. Your loved ones have peace of mind, because they're not left to guess about what you would have wanted.
Even if you don't have a family or significant assets, you still need an estate plan. An advance health care directive (sometimes called a "living will") will let medical providers know what types of care you do and don't want, in the event you're unable to make those decisions or communicate your wishes. You can also designate someone to make medical decisions for you in the event that you're unable to. If you don't have an advance health care directive, a court will appoint someone to make your medical decisions, and that person may not know or respect your wishes.
As important as it is to make an estate plan, it's equally important to update it every few years or in the event of a major life change like divorce, so that it reflects your current circumstance.
When someone dies, his or her assets must be identified, gathered, managed, and distributed to heirs and beneficiaries. If the decedent had a valid will, the will will dictate the distribution of property after payment has been made to creditors; if not, state law will determine how assets are distributed. The court process of administering a deceased person's estate is called probate. The Probate Court appoints a personal representative to manage the estate and report to the court.
Some assets, like insurance benefits, retirement benefits, and assets held in trust pass directly to beneficiaries. Assets that do not pass directly to others must go through the probate process, also known as estate administration. Although many people reduce the size of their probate estate through estate planning, most people die with at least some property that must go through probate. Probate can be complicated and difficult to navigate for someone unfamiliar with the process. An experienced attorney, who is paid out of estate funds, not by the personal representative, can provide invaluable assistance.
The Law Office of Erin M. Wilkins offers knowledgeable, compassionate assistance with both estate planning and estate administration (probate). Erin can set your mind at ease during a private, confidential consultation and help you achieve the peace of mind that comes from knowing your family's future is secure.
Please also see our Family Law Resource Center.