I have no hesitation saying that my wife and I are DIYers, but we recognize our limits. Doing it yourself can save you some dough, but you need to be smart about it. It doesn’t save you one dime if you later need to call in a professional to fix your mistakes, and like brain surgery, some things should be left to the professionals.
As a Marietta Estate Planning Attorney, I can assure you that estate planning falls into the professional category.
Could you do it yourself? Well, when it comes to your legal planning, I’ll say that you could do something, but do you really understand what you are doing and the consequences of the words on paper? For most people the answer will be a resounding “NO.”
With the advent of the internet it seems that more and more people want to attempt their own documents. And here is the key: Planning is not about the documents. Yes, the documents are needed to communicate your instructions to others, but the process of creating the instructions is what is critical. If you don’t know what you want or more importantly don’t understand the ramifications of what you think you want you are just wasting your time and money.
Fill in the blank, push a button, hand over your credit card, and get some documents. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? And it is—BUT what do you have? What do you need? Will it actually work? As with many things we often don’t know what we don’t know.
Instead, let me clear this up for you by sharing a real-life story that demonstrates what happens if you don’t fully understand the outcome of your actions.
Dennis had always been resourceful, and he also didn’t like to spend money if it wasn’t necessary. Dennis, age 56, was divorced and did not have any children. His only sibling was an estranged half-sister with whom he had not been on good terms for a number of years. The people who were important to him and who he wanted to leave a little something to were his friends, people that cared about him.
After doing some research on the internet and reading a book or two about how to make a will, Dennis decided to make his will by himself. He hand-wrote all the provisions, signed it, and had it witnessed. He took it out a year later and decided to make some changes. He crossed out certain provisions. He did not initial the cross-outs nor did he date them.
One year later Dennis died. Approximately one month before his death, Dennis was hospitalized and told Janet that he wanted his property to be divided equally among his friends Mary, Mark, Janet, and Sam, and he would be changing his will to reflect this. Unfortunately, he never did, and only succeeded in creating a big mess.
As Dennis’s executor, Janet collected and reviewed all Dennis’s assets and she was amazed. Her friend had a much bigger estate than she ever imagined. Janet hired a lawyer to help her with the estate. After her visit with the probate lawyer, Janet was astounded at all the ways Dennis got it wrong.
First, the lawyer told Janet that there would be two probates. There would be one probate in Georgia because that’s where Dennis lived when he died. She said that a second probate would be required in Florida because Dennis owned real estate there. The lawyer also found problems with the will. The clause giving his house to Janet and the clause giving the remainder of his estate to Sam were the clauses that Dennis made the modifications to. He crossed out Sam’s name and did not replace it with anything. He crossed out Janet’s name and above it wrote Sam’s name, then he crossed this out as well, but did not replace it with anything. This meant that for most of Dennis’s property there was no will and the property would be distributed according to the intestate succession laws of the State of Georgia.
And there was more bad news. The life insurance policy and IRA listed Dennis’s ex-wife as beneficiary. Janet knew that Dennis did not intend to leave these assets to his ex-wife, and she couldn’t help thinking how careless Dennis had been not to change the beneficiary designations after the divorce. Finally, the lawyer told Janet the probate (in two states) could cost the estate a total of over $10,000!
Janet could not believe what she was hearing. Not only would she not receive Dennis’s house, but she would have to expend a great deal of time with the two probates to ensure that the bulk of Dennis’s estate would go to his estranged half-sister and his ex-wife, instead of going to the people that he cared about and that cared about him—exactly the opposite of what he intended! What a mess!
Of course that’s just one of MANY tragic situations that can happen when you do your own estate planning. As I always tell my clients, you just don’t know what you don’t know and estate planning is one of those things best left to the professionals.
So if you have DIY estate planning documents and you are now concerned that you’ve made a key omission or mistake that could cause your wishes to be ignored or overlooked in a court of law following your passing, I invite you to call me at 770-425-6060 to schedule a comprehensive Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session so we can review and update your current documentation.
We’ve pretty much all heard about “bucket lists,” but that term can take on a little bit of a different meaning when you’re a Marietta estate planning lawyer. We deal with the reality every day that life is fleeting, and it’s our goal to help clients to maximize what they are able to leave behind. For that reason, here are some items that we think everyone should consider putting on their “estate planning bucket list.”
- Inventory – Creating an inventory of everything you own, especially anything worth more than $100, is a great way to have a thorough accounting of just what it is that you will leave behind when you pass away. In addition to the physical items that you possess, you’ll also want to include assets such as retirement accounts, stocks, insurance policies, etc.
- Debts – We live in a time where debt is more common than not, and your estate planning lawyer will encourage you to create a separate list of what you (and your estate) owe. This list should include mortgages and HELOCs, credit card accounts, auto loans and everything else you can think of. This is the perfect time to order a free credit report to see what items are listed on it.
- Memberships – Another list that you should create would include all of the organizations to which you are a member. Everything from AAA to the alumni association at your alma mater would belong on this list. If you’re a supporter of one or more charities, you should also have them on your membership list.
- Review Your Accounts – Now that you have a list of your assets, it will be easier to locate any accounts that include beneficiary designations. Retirement accounts and bank accounts are just two of these. Make sure that the beneficiary you have listed is still correct, because when you pass away, despite what is written in your will, this designation is that one that will be used. It’s not all that unusual for a Marietta estate planning attorney’s client to discover they still have an ex-spouse listed as a beneficiary on an account! You may find that some of these accounts have an option to make them “transferrable on death,” which means that they can be passed on without going through the probate process, but only if you are using this feature.
- Review Your Insurance Policies – Just like with your accounts above, your insurance policies will have one or more beneficiaries listed. You’ll want to make sure that these are up-to-date, and you may also want to review your coverage with your insurance provider to make sure that it is at the appropriate level for your current stage of life.
- Choose Your Executor – It’s up to you to determine who you want to administer your estate for you. This person will distribute your assets and take on other responsibilities for fulfilling the legal obligations of an estate. Your Marietta estate planning lawyer can offer advice on how to choose the right person for the job, whether it’s a friend, a family member, or a professional executor.
- Write Your Will – Without your legal, written instructions to follow, the courts will distribute your estate as they see fit. Avoid this and have a say in what becomes of your assets by working with an experienced estate planning lawyer to create a legal will. During this time, you and your attorney may determine that you also want to create one or more trusts in order to ensure your estate is used to your specifications and/or to minimize the taxes that will be owed upon your death.
- Get the Information to the Right People – Make sure, for example, that your executor has a signed, witnessed, notarized copy of your will, along with the lists you have created. This will make their job much easier and will streamline the process later. You’ll also want to make sure that your estate planning lawyer files any appropriate paperwork for safekeeping in the Cobb County Probate Court. Finally, it’s a good idea to keep extra copies of these documents in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box or a fireproof, waterproof safe at home.
Taking the time now to mark these things off your estate planning bucket list means that you can save a lot of hassle and even money for those you leave behind. If you are ready to get started, call us at 770-425-6060.
Do single people need a will or trust attorney? Yes!
Really, “yes” is the only answer that’s really needed, but we’ll go ahead and create a whole blog post to offer some insight as to why estate planning is important for singles and not just for families.
One of the most important reasons for a single person to work with a will and trust attorney in Canton GA is best understood when you think about the consequences of not planning. Should you have a medical emergency or pass away, what becomes of you and your estate will be entirely up to the state of Georgia. This means that if you are unable to communicate your wishes, the state will step in and impose its own plan on your body and your assets.
Imagine that for a moment. If you were to have a medical emergency and be unable to speak up, who would be able to tell the doctors what you would want? Hopefully, that person would be one of your parents or siblings, because it’s pretty likely that they are who the courts would appoint on your behalf. If the best choice would really be a good friend, other family member, or possibly a significant other to whom you’re not legally married, the courts won’t care. They will stick to the predetermined law, and that law will look at bloodline relatives first.
This is also the case with your finances. If you are unable to take care of your own finances for any reason, the courts will likely appoint the closest blood relative to step in. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want your family in your private financial affairs or not. They will have access to your money and will be put in charge of managing it, paying your bills, etc. Think about how your oldest sibling manages his or her money. Would you be comfortable with that person being in responsible for yours?
Along the same lines, should you pass away without an estate plan, your assets will automatically go through the Cherokee County probate process. Again, the courts will step in and determine who is to inherit your property and money; and you will have absolutely no say in the matter. How excited would you be for Mom and Dad to inherit your laptop or for your siblings to be given the jewelry which, by all accounts, should go to your best friend?
None of these scenarios is even a little bit exaggerated. This is exactly what happens when a single person in Canton GA chooses not to work with an estate planning attorney. Remember, it’s not just about having a lot of assets to leave behind; it’s about making your own decisions regarding your medical care, your possessions, and your finances. Having a small estate now simply means that the planning process will be less complicated! Call us at 770-425-6060 to get started!
The decision of who to appoint as your executor or trustee is a huge one, and we’ve talked about it a bit in the past. Still, it’s important to make sure that you have the information you need to make the right choice with your Woodstock GA estate planning lawyer. This person will hold incredible responsibility for overseeing what becomes of your estate, and you want your choice to reflect this.
It’s not unusual to name your spouse as the executor or trustee, but there are certainly other options. You may determine that one of your adult children is a good choice or prefer to have a family friend in charge. In some cases, you may even place an attorney in the role. No matter who you choose, you’ll want to also list an alternate in case there is some reason your first choice is unable to take care of the duties required.
Some things to consider when choosing your executor or successor trustee:
- The process of closing an estate can take a very long time, so you want to choose someone who will be committed to following through.
- The person chosen will have access to your finances, and there are opportunities to abuse the trust placed in him or her. For this reason, among others, you want to choose a representative in whom you have complete trust.
- There are many details and conflicting interests that will need to be managed during the process, so you want to choose someone who is organized and able to juggle these responsibilities.
- Dealing with the estate requires working with a wide range of people and institutions. The person you choose to represent you must be able to clearly communicate with all of them.
- Because there are a lot of financial considerations to be made, it’s also best to choose someone who is responsible with money and has a decent grasp of how to manage it.
- The person chosen will likely need to spend time in your home or business, going to court, meeting with attorneys, etc. For this reason, estate lawyers in Woodstock GA will often recommend you choose a representative who is physically available, possibly even someone living in the area.
Finally, you want to ensure that the person you name to handle your estate is willing to take on the job. It’s best to discuss the responsibilities and expectations with him or her to make sure it’s something the person feels up to taking on. Spouses or children may feel like they would be unable to do the job in the midst of their grief, others may just not want the responsibility. By discussing it with them before having your Woodstock GA estate lawyer name them in your documents, you won’t be adding an extra burden to someone who isn’t able to accept it.
The Veteran’s Administration has announced a policy change that will soon affect all older veterans and their spouses! Please read on…
On October 18, 2018, the VA is instituting rule changes that will make it more difficult for vets to qualify for existing benefits and protect their assets.
Vets and their spouses who are 65 or older, served during a period of war, have trouble performing tasks of daily living (bathing, dressing, toileting, etc.), and meet certain financial requirements are eligible to receive up to $26,036 annually in non-service connected benefits through the VA to help pay for long-term care, including home health care and nursing home care.
To qualify, most veterans and their spouses will need to work together with their estate planning attorney to create and implement a plan. Proper planning allows the veteran to meet the VA’s income and asset thresholds, without actually forfeiting their assets or being forced to spend down their savings before they could be eligible for benefits.
Currently, this type of planning can be done right up to the day the application is submitted…with the VA’s blessing… because they do not have a formal “look-back period” for asset transfers on the books. But…
🚨🚨🚨 THIS IS CHANGING AS OF OCTOBER 18TH! 🚨🚨🚨
Starting on October 18, 2018, the Veteran’s Administration will begin imposing a three (3) year look-back period on all asset transfers. Each transfer or gift will cause a penalty period that could last up to five years before you are able to access your benefits. Other significant changes to the rules are also going into effect.
If you don’t have time to wait for benefits or your family could utilize up to $26,036 tax-free to help pay for your care today or in the future, the time to act is NOW.
Here is what you must do immediately:
- If you’ve already done your homework on collecting Aid & Attendance benefits but you’ve yet to move forward with your planning, it’s time to take the final step. Call us and we’ll get you into the office ASAP. You must get your planning done before October 18th to take advantage of opportunities while they still exist before the new rules go into effect.
- If you are an older wartime veteran or spouse and this is the first time you are hearing about Aid and Attendance benefits, please call our Marietta Veteran Pension Attorney office at 770-425-6060 RIGHT AWAY. We are clearing out spaces on our calendar so we can bring in vets and their spouses for an educational planning session where we’ll teach you all about this benefit, crunch the numbers to determine how you can qualify, and create a plan to help you get your application in before the October 18th
- If you think you might need care in the future, the time to plan is still RIGHT NOW. You can work to appropriately arrange your finances today so that when you apply for benefits down the road, you can qualify without a penalty.
If you are a wartime vet or spouse (or you care about someone who is), there’s no time to delay. We invite you to come into the office to get your questions answered, and we’ll work diligently to complete any planning that you may need before the October 18th deadline.
Again, just call our Marietta Veteran Benefits Attorney office at 770-425-6060 to schedule your appointment.
Stephen M. Worrall
Georgia Estate Plan: Worrall Law LLC
3750 Palladian Village Drive
Marietta GA 30066
steve @ georgiaestateplan.com
P.S. I don’t usually say this—but, please SHARE OR COPY AND FORWARD this message to every veteran who you know and care about. Helping a Vet access the Aid & Attendance benefits they are rightfully entitled to for serving during a period of war can mean the difference between aging with dignity or becoming impoverished by the costs of long-term care. This is information that every older vet should know about!