The U.S. Supreme Court is set to decide in a matter of days, or even hours, whether the Constitution requires states to allow same-sex marriage. While many same-sex couples have been awaiting a decision, waiting may not be the best strategy. To gain control of life decisions and estate planning, same-sex couples should put their wishes in writing now without waiting for the Supreme Court decision.
A little background: The top court has heard arguments on cases brought by 15 same-sex couples in four states and is expected to issue their decision this month. If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, all states will have to recognize same-sex marriages. (Currently, 36 states do so.)
But don’t expect a ruling in favor of same-sex marriage to clear the muddy marital waters. When it comes to estate planning matters, the hodgepodge of rules that apply state-by-state to married couples, whether same-sex or opposite sex, will continue. Estate planning for same sex couples in Georgia should be something done sooner, rather than later.
Regardless of the Court’s decision, when it comes to same-sex estate planning matters, couples should be taking steps now to make their plan bullet-proof. By “bullet-proof” I mean designing an estate plan that addresses their specific wants and needs and keeps them in control. A couple’s own plan is always better than someone else’s and without an estate plan of their own, a couple is subject to the default rules of their state – not an attractive option.
One option to carefully consider: a revocable trust, which can be useful in distributing assets to the beneficiaries and allow heirs to avoid the time and expense involved in the probate process. Additionally, a revocable trust offers flexibility, allowing the couple to modify and update the plan as their circumstances change.
Another important consideration for same-sex couples is how they want the courts to treat their children. The same-sex couple with children has to be treated as a blended family. The question of parental rights must also be addressed. For instance, what happens to the rights of the biological parent who is not part of the couple? A same-sex partner who is not a biological parent should consider adopting the child to establish his or her rights.
If same-sex couples are not proactively planning, the courts in each state will be making the decisions for them. Bottom line: the default rules in most states are woefully inadequate and no one – either opposite sex or same-sex couples – should ever have to rely on default rules.
Planning will be especially critical for same-sex couples if the Supreme Court allows states to continue to have their own rules on who can marry; however, even if the high court decides in favor of same-sex marriage, proactive planning is still essential to maintaining control of one’s life and assets.
You may not need an Atlanta GA estate planning lawyer to make a will (although that isn’t a wise decision), but what if you have no will at all? No one wants to think about their future demise, but death will be coming for all of us eventually. Without a will, what will become of your assets, your liabilities, and who will be the executor? Will any of your loved ones be left out in the cold?
Every state has its own specific set of laws, but by and large the basic rules are the same from state to state. A qualified Georgia estate planning lawyer is the best resource for uncovering what the laws are here. For someone to inherit intestate, or when there is no will, he or she must be a legal relative. Generally speaking a spouse (or civil partner in some states) inherits it all if there are no children. If there are children, the spouse may receive as little as 1/3 of the estate, and the rest is divided among the children.
The specifics concerning separated spouses, stepchildren, etc. can make things even more complicated, but there is one constant: no one can profit from a death they caused. If there are allegations or proof of abuse or murder, that person may be prohibited from inheriting at all. This makes sense; not only is abuse wrong, but the government wants to make sure that no one is rewarded for murder.
In cases where there are minor children and the other parent is still living, an estate planning lawyer will tell you that what is left behind usually goes solely to the spouse, with the understanding that he or she will use it for the benefit and welfare of him or herself and the children. If there are considerable assets, a will and trust lawyer in Atlanta can then help the surviving spouse to create living trusts for the children.
Sometimes, there is no surviving spouse or children. In these cases, distant relatives may be eligible to inherit some or all of the assets left behind. In no case, however, are friends and people not related to the deceased allowed to inherit. These people can only inherit based on the specifics of a will, and with no will, they have no claim.
Some assets aren’t passed along via a will, and so these items may also have clear beneficiaries listed on the specific documents.
- Life insurance policy proceeds
- Real estate, bank accounts, and other property held in joint tenancy or community property
- IRA funds, or other retirement plans that name a beneficiary
- Any funds held in a living trust
Perhaps the strangest thing that probate lawyers in Atlanta see is when there are no living family members and no will. When this happens, the assets are given to the state. If you want to make sure that your property is passed along to a friend or charity, be sure to make a will, because otherwise it goes to Uncle Sam.
Estate planning is very important, and your best bet is to hire an estate planning lawyer who has specific knowledge in this area of law. Each state has laws that change when and how people can inherit if you leave your estate intestate. So, do your loved ones a favor and leave a will. This way you can make sure that your estate is divided as you want it to be, without it going back to the government.
When a celebrity passes away, Georgia will and trust lawyers often watch for news of their affairs, hoping that the celebrity in question had a great estate plan in place. With the recent loss of comedian Joan Rivers, it was reassuring to see that she had planned well for her loved ones, including her pets.
At the time of her death, Rivers’ estate was worth approximately $150 million, and she clearly knew that estate planning was no joking matter. Most of her assets were left to her daughter Melissa and her grandson Cooper. However, the celebrity also took the additional step of setting up a pet trust for her four dogs.
How Pet Trusts Work
Pet trusts have become somewhat popular these days, which is great news for companion animals who have been left behind. Not only will the person creating the trust designate a guardian for the pets, he or she will also set aside funds for the animals’ upkeep. There is also a trustee named who is in charge of the financial aspects of the trust. In some cases, the guardian or caretaker is also the trustee, but in others a separate person is designated. The trustee disperses funds to the guardian, lessening the likelihood of the guardian misusing the money for his or her own benefit. An additional safeguard is to photograph or microchip your pets so that fraud cannot be committed later.
Better Than a Will
While your Georgia pet trust lawyer may still encourage you to have a will in order to disperse your estate, those wanting to provide for their pets are probably better off creating an additional pet trust. Animals are not allowed to own property, so leaving anything to a pet via your will is unlikely to work. Instead, a pet trust is set up specifically for the animal’s benefit while having the oversight and management of actual humans.
The terms of trusts are not typically made public (one of the reasons Georgia will and trust lawyers like them so much), so it’s not really known how much Joan Rivers provided in her pet trust. What is known is that her long-time assistant Jocelyn Pickett will be the dogs’ caretaker. Many organizations are excited about the fact that such a high-profile celebrity has created a pet trust, hoping that it brings awareness to the possibility and improves the lives of animals whose owners pass away.
Will and estate lawyers in metro Atlanta are charged with a number of tasks when it comes to wealth management, retirement planning, and setting up wills and trusts. For the most part, clients are concerned with their money and other assets, which makes sense. After all, no one really wants to pay more taxes than are necessary, and it’s important to pass on family money and heirlooms.
All of these tasks are essential, but there are other ways in which you may want to utilize your Atlanta will and estate lawyer’s expertise. Many people are now choosing to add “intangible assets” to their estate plans. These are items that may not have any monetary value but that can help to truly build a legacy.
Intangible assets such as personal letters you’ve written to loved ones, a recorded family history, or other types of messages can become a part of your estate’s trust, with the lawyer delivering them at the appropriate times. This idea can be especially interesting to someone facing a terminal illness earlier in life. A young mother, for example, could create a video of herself giving her children advice and then have those videos delivered after her death when her children meet certain milestones in their own lives such as graduation, marriage, or becoming parents themselves.
While there is no dollar amount attached to intangible assets, they can become some of the most treasured parts of your estate. Just because you can’t be there for a grandchild’s big day doesn’t mean you can’t offer your love and support, to share your pride and happiness, to offer advice and guidance.
Here are some of the things that Atlanta will and estate lawyers have seen left as intangible assets:
- Annual birthday cards or recorded greetings
- Congratulations on life events
- Stories from the deceased’s life (oral or written)
- The deceased reading bed-time stories to kids or grandkids
- Handwritten cards or letters
- Life lessons that should be passed down
- Video instructions of how to do something (make a favorite recipe, for example)
You may also be interested in creating a video will. Your Atlanta estate planning lawyer will want to make sure you have everything written down according to state and other laws, but there is no reason that you cannot make a recording of yourself reading the will, perhaps even adding in the reasons for your decisions or the hopes you have for your beneficiaries.
A video will serves another purpose, too, as it can be used to show that you were competent when you made your will. Estate planning lawyers do have to occasionally deal with family members and others challenging a will, so your video reading could be an important way to ensure that your wishes really are followed. Whether you are looking to develop intangible assets or to create a video will, your Atlanta will and estate lawyer is a great resource in how to get it done properly.