In 2008, Congress recognized the need for the public to understand the importance and benefits of estate planning by passing House Resolution 1499, which designated the third week of October as National Estate Planning Awareness Week. Nevertheless, according to a 2019 survey carried out by Caring.com, 57% of adults in the United States have not prepared any estate planning documents such as a will or trust despite the fact that 76% viewed them as important. Many of the respondents said this was due to procrastination, but many others mistakenly believed that it was not necessary because they did not have many assets.
Why should you have an estate plan?
An estate plan can provide significant peace of mind by ensuring your assets are protected, plans are in place in the event you become ill, and your property is passed down according to your wishes.
What key topics should you consider?
- Do you have a last will and testament and/or a trust? If you do not have these important documents, state law will determine who will inherit your property—and thus it may not occur in the way you would have chosen. In addition, someone appointed by the court, instead of a trusted person of your choosing, will be in charge of caring for any children or pets. Spelling out your wishes in a will or trust will also prevent unnecessary confusion, anxiety, and expense for other family members when you are gone.
- Have the proper powers of attorney been prepared? A financial power of attorney will allow you to designate an individual to make financial and property decisions for you should you become unable to handle your own affairs. A medical power of attorney enables you to designate a person you trust to make medical decisions for you when you are otherwise unable to speak for yourself.
- Make sure that you have an advanced directive, also called a living will, which memorializes your wishes concerning your end of life care, such as whether you would like to receive life support if you are in a vegetative state or terminal condition.
- Do you have insurance? If you become incapacitated or die, it is important for your family or loved ones to have information about your insurance (such as life, health, disability, longterm care, etc.) so that claims can be filed.
- Compile a list of all of your accounts and other important information, including bank and investment accounts, titles to vehicles and homes, credit card accounts or loans, digital accounts (such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) and passwords, Social Security cards, passports and birth certificates, which may be needed to manage your property when you are incapacitated or settle your estate once you are gone. This information should be kept in a safe place and shared only with trusted family members or loved ones.
- A list of legal, financial, and medical professionals who have performed services for you is also important. The list should include their contact information so your family can easily reach them in the event their help is needed if you become disabled or die. If desired, you should also ensure HIPAA authorizations are in place with medical professionals to ensure your family members are able to obtain needed information.
How should you encourage your family members to create an estate plan?
Estate Planning Awareness Week is a great opportunity not only to take steps to make sure your own estate plan is in place, but also to talk to your family members, especially elderly parents, about creating an estate plan. Estate planning is often a difficult topic to broach, as it brings the unpleasant topics of aging and death to the forefront of our minds. Here are a few tips to help you start the conversation.
- Be sensitive to your family members’ feelings. Put yourself in their shoes, and keep in mind that few people are eager to dwell on the subject of their own death. One way to begin the conversation is to talk first about the need to plan for an illness and to provide instructions in the event they become too ill to communicate with doctors or handle financial matters for themselves. The conversation can then naturally progress to the importance of having an estate plan that will enable their assets to be transferred in the way that they wish, provide for the care of any dependents or pets, and minimize any taxes, court costs, and legal fees. Communicate that you are not trying to control their decisions, but only want to ensure that their own wishes regarding their medical care and their property are known—and that all their instructions are in writing to guarantee they are carried out.
- Involve other family members in the conversation. If you are planning to speak to your parents about the need for an estate plan, it is important to try to include any siblings in the discussion to avoid giving the impression that you are trying to influence or control your parents’ choices. You and your siblings should emphasize to your parents that none of you are asking about what you will inherit, but just want to make sure that their wishes are carried out if they become ill or pass away.
Consult an estate planning attorney. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you and your family members create an estate plan tailored to meet each of your unique needs and carry out your wishes—or help you update a pre-existing estate plan. We can provide each family member with guidance and information about the options available to them. We can help each of you put a plan in place that will prevent unnecessary stress, legal expenses and taxes, uneven inheritances, disputes between family members, and delays in passing life savings on to loved ones. In addition, it will provide you and your family members with the peace of mind that comes with knowing there are plans in place for your care if any of you become ill and that your wishes will be honored once you pass away. Call us at 770-425-6060 today to set up a meeting or, for more information, click here for Our FREE “Get Your Ducks in a Row” Estate Planning Checklist!
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.
One day William’s daughter read in an article that a will was not the best way to leave property to heirs. Wills often involve long and expensive court proceedings and there are other, more efficient ways to pass on savings to family. But William was a person who knew his own mind, and he felt sure that a simple will would be good enough for him.
A will without court approval is nothing more than the paper it’s written on. Wills, by themselves, are not enough to prevent property from staying “stuck” in a decedent’s name. The only way a will could be effective, to give William’s daughter the inheritance he wanted her to have, was for his daughter to go to court after he passed. Courts make sure that wills are valid, debts are paid, and – despite whatever the will may say – whether other family members might also have a legal right to a portion of the estate. Worse, because probate court files are public record, anybody off the street could have open access to all documents filed there, including wills.
So when William’s daughter filed in probate court after he died, she soon found herself besieged by get-rich-quick con artists. William’s estranged second wife’s children showed up to demand a piece of his estate. When a small loan William owed on his house was discovered, a property broker flagged the house for foreclosure and the daughter’s lawyer had to move fast to keep the house off the auction block.
It took over three years to resolve these complications. Even simple probate matters can end up costing between two and eight percent of the total estate value. William’s daughter had to pay around $30,000.00 in court costs, attorneys’ fees, and accounting expenses. She then had a minor traffic accident. Even though nobody was hurt, the other driver sued her and she eventually spent a significant chunk of the rest of her inheritance on attorneys’ fees and court charges.
If only William had heeded his daughter’s advice, these difficulties could have been avoided or minimized. Here is what an experienced Marietta estate planning attorney could have recommended instead.
Making his bank account “POD.” William kept a modest sum in a savings account. He could have left that money to his daughter using a “payable on death” (POD) designation, simply naming his daughter as owner of his account on his passing. Then all his daughter would have to do would be to present William’s death certificate and proper identification, and the bank would pay over the funds to her. No fees, no fuss, no exposure.
Deeding his house. There are several inexpensive and effective options to use deeds to transfer ownership of real estate automatically, without the need for probate. An attorney would know which kind of deed would have suited William best.
Protecting the inheritance. William had several antique cars worth around $50,000.00. An attorney could have created a trust for William, transferred ownership of the cars into the trust, and named his daughter as trustee. As long as the trust was carefully drafted, the money those cars could fetch might have been protected from the accident litigation.
Small-estate proceedings. William’s estate was too large to benefit, but, for smaller holdings, most if not all states permit shortened and simplified proceedings that avoid the costs and delay of full-blown probate proceedings. These go by various names, including “small-estate” or “voluntary-administration,” or “summary-administration” proceedings. As long as an estate is worth less than the upper limit set by law, property can be distributed without the court supervision that probate proceedings otherwise require. The limit varies depending on the state, generally between $30,000.00 and $100,000.00. In Georgia, accounts with less than $10,000 can be transferred by affidavit and without probate and so can automobiles.
When it comes to wills, there are many better alternatives that would have kept William’s financial affairs more-efficiently managed and private. Attorneys know. Please ask. Call our Marietta estate planning lawyers at 770-425-6060 and let us educate you so you can make the decision of what planning tools are best for you and your family.
Stephen M. Worrall, Marietta Estate Planning, Elder Law and Probate Attorney at Georgia Estate Plan: Worrall Law LLC, has been selected to the 2018 Georgia Super Lawyers list. He was named as a Top Estate Planning and Probate Lawyer, one of only 34 named in that practice area in Georgia this year. No more than five percent of the lawyers in the state are selected by Super Lawyers.
Super Lawyers, part of Thomson Reuters, is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The annual selections are made using a patented multiphase process that includes a statewide survey of lawyers, an independent research evaluation of candidates and peer reviews by practice area. The result is a credible, comprehensive and diverse listing of exceptional attorneys.
The Super Lawyers lists are published nationwide in Super Lawyers Magazines and in leading city and regional magazines and newspapers across the country.In Georgia, the results are posted in Atlanta Magazine. Super Lawyers Magazines also feature editorial profiles of attorneys who embody excellence in their practice of law. For more information about Super Lawyers, go to SuperLawyers.com. To see Mr. Worrall’s listing, go here.