Diamond & LeSueur is your local law firm providing compassionate, confidential, hands-on service. We will take our time to customize an estate plan designed to fit your needs, goals and wallet. Although it is too late for Prince, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Sonny Bono, and Ernie Banks, it’s not too late for you!
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For more information on estate planning, what it is and what it does, read on!
Here is some free advice: DON’T PROCRASTINATE! Many people think they don’t need estate planning or they simply put it off, thinking that they will get to it one day. You don’t need to be incredibly wealthy, or wealthy at all, to put a plan into effect to protect your family and your interests should something happen to you. And, as much as it pains us to say it, you are not going to live forever. That’s a fact. But, if you have not taken care of your estate planning, don’t worry. Don’t be like Prince, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Sonny Bono, and Ernie Banks. These men all died without having their estate plans in order, or updated, and left behind a legacy of litigation, lies and intense family disputes. Sure, you may not have the incredible wealth some of these men enjoyed, but you have worked hard for what you have and you should be able to decide what happens to it when you are gone.
What is an estate plan? Is it complicated? Expensive?
One reason good people with good intentions don’t have an estate plan is, quite frankly, it can be daunting. Fortunately, the attorneys at Diamond & LeSueur are excellent at looking at your unique situation and explaining your options in a way that is easy for you to understand. We will customize a plan that fits your needs, your goals and your wallet. Generally, a good estate plan includes a will, a trust (in many cases), durable powers of attorney for property and healthcare and a living will. If you have special needs, such as a handicapped child or a family member with a gambling or drug addiction, we have estate planning solutions that will give you peace of mind.
Another reason people don’t have an estate plan is “It’s depressing.” Are you avoiding setting up an estate plan because thinking about it is depressing? You are not alone. The good news is that if you have well-thought out plan in place, when you pass away or are unable to manage your affairs, the plan you have put into place will be a blessing to your family and loved ones.
What is a trust and what does it do? I’m not Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, so do I need one?
Many people think that a revocable living trust is only for the wealthy. Not so! A revocable living trust can be a very useful tool, offering tax savings, protecting what you have from creditors, keeping your estate out of probate (more savings!) and the details of your estate private and out of the public eye. In the long run, although there is a cost to set up a trust and minimal fees to transfer your assets into the trust, the time and monies saved and hassles avoided more than justify the initial expense. But, caveat emptor (lawyer talk for let the buyer beware)! You must have your trust prepared by someone who knows how to do it properly and is up-to-date on current laws. And just signing the trust document is not enough. There is no point in setting up a trust if you don’t follow through by making sure your assets are properly titled or transferred into your trust. Consider this:
Think of your trust as a safe, like a big vault at a bank, except that you control the safe. Pretend that everything you own (your “assets”) is in one big pile, say in your house where you keep your safe. Now imagine a burglar entering your home while you are away. (Technically, you have now passed away.) His name, the burglar’s, is Mr. Probate. Luckily, you put your big pile of assets in that big vault and locked the door before you left. Mr. Probate (the “burglar”) gets nothing. Nicely done! Since you took the few extra steps to make sure your checking account, money market accounts, investment accounts, real estate, etc. were properly titled in your trust, Mr. Probate left without anything. Your assets were protected for your loved ones and will be distributed as you directed in your trust.
TESTATE = GOOD. INTESTATE = BAD. PROBATE = UGLY?
Now consider the scenario where you forgot to put your stuff in your big vault (your assets in your trust) and you have passed away….or maybe you never even set up a trust, or worse yet, a will. Again, you are not alone. Since almost 70% of the U.S. adult population does not even have a will, it is a sure bet that a much higher percentage does not have a trust. So, the burglar, a/k/a Mr. Probate, enters the scene and now your family and loved ones have to go through “him” to get access to your assets. This is time-consuming and results in stress, confusion, and court costs for those you have left behind.
If you have a valid will (but don’t want or need a trust) and you die, you have died “testate”, meaning you have left behind a written, legal document that spells out your wishes with regard to your assets, among other things. Your estate will now go through what is called PROBATE and the good news is probate isn’t all bad. Probate exists for a reason and, simply put, it is the legal process of estate administration through the courts. In a nutshell, this process includes:
- Filing and validation of your will;
- Preparation of an inventory of all of your assets;
- Payment of amounts due and owing to your creditors;
- Payment of outstanding taxes; and
- Distribution of your remaining assets per your wishes as outlined in your will.
There will also be paperwork to be completed, court costs and appearances, publication, notice to heirs and legatees, etc. As estate planning professionals, Diamond & LeSueur can guide you through these steps.
But what happens when you die and you didn’t have a legal will? That means you died “intestate” and the legal system will make the decision of who gets what. You will have had no say in how your assets are distributed and the laws of intestate succession in the state where you lived will decide for you. If you have a wife, children, parents, brothers, sisters or other family members, don’t do this to them. Contact our office today to get a start on your estate planning!
I’M NOT DEAD YET.
Estate planning is more than what happens after you die. If you have a trust, it is working all the time and, especially important, has provisions should you become incapacitated or unable to continue as Trustee.
Powers of Attorney are powerful tools that give certain powers to agents selected by you. That is a lot of power! The durable Power of Attorney for Property is your written authorization for another person (your agent) to make legal or financial decisions on your behalf should you become unable to do so. If you become disabled or incapacitated, your agent can administer your affairs while you are still alive. Equally important is the durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare which is separate and precise. In this document, you give your agent the authority to make medical treatment decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to make such decisions for yourself (due to incapacity, inability to communicate, mental illness).
Estate planning is protection. It protects your wishes, your loved ones and your assets.
If you do not have an estate plan or if you have an existing estate plan you would like to make changes to or just have reviewed, contact Diamond & LeSueur today.