“Estate planning is the process of anticipating and arranging for the management and disposal of a person's estate during the person's life in preparation for a person's future incapacity or death.”
Some still hold onto the old-school idea of estate planning being needed only by people living on an estate, owning a business, or having inherited significant wealth. This isn’t true, as explained in the article “Everyone needs a will—and here’s why” from JOLT News.
Times change, and so do laws and possibilities. Estate planning is vital for everyone. It includes planning for incapacity, which can happen to anyone at any age and stage of life. A durable power of attorney is one of the most important estate planning tools. If you become incapacitated, it allows you to name another person to manage your financial and legal affairs.
Without a durable power of attorney, your family will need to go to court and be named your guardian to be able to pay your bills and tackle other everyday tasks we usually don’t think twice about. Unfortunately, obtaining guardianship is a lengthy and expensive process. Having an experienced estate planning attorney create a power of attorney customized to your particular situation is a far better option.
When the last will and testament is needed, a power of attorney expires upon death. This is the foundation of distributing your assets. An estate planning attorney will review your situation thoroughly to make the best plan for you and your family.
A common mistake occurs when people think they can circumvent estate planning by adding another person to their bank and investment accounts. This unfortunately makes the accounts vulnerable to a number of bad outcomes. For example, if the person you name has any problems with debt, their creditors can come after your assets.
Upon the original owner’s death, the assets in the jointly owned accounts will be distributed directly to the joint owner, which may or may not have been the intention. As a result, heirs will have no ability to recover those assets.
For those living in community property states, some assets automatically transfer to the surviving spouse. However, some will require an administrative process to transfer assets to the surviving spouse formally. A meeting with an estate planning attorney will clarify and document the couple’s wishes.
The will is the most common planning tool. It must be signed by the person making the will, known as the testator, in the presence of witnesses. In some states, one witness is required, but two are required in other states. Your estate planning attorney will know the policies and requirements of your state.
Your will is the document used to name an executor, who will administer the estate and distribute assets. If you have minor children, you’ll name a primary and secondary guardian to raise the children in the event of your passing.
Reference: JOLT News (April 19, 2023) “Everyone needs a will—and here’s why”