Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples | Atlanta Estate Planning Lawyer

Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples | Atlanta Estate Planning Lawyer

While married couples are most obviously in need of the services of an estate planning lawyer in Atlanta, unmarried couples may actually need it more. It’s a pretty well known fact that when a married spouse passes away, the other will likely inherit a considerable portion of the estate, simply by virtue of the legal marriage.

But, what about folks who are cohabitating but not legally married? The situation for them can become much more dire should one partner pass away without a solid estate plan in place. For example, even if the couple lives together in a home, if one partner dies, the other may have no legal right to the property—even if he or she helped pay for it!  It is unfortunate, but estate planning lawyers in Atlanta have seen far too many situations where adult children have kicked their deceased parents’ partner out of a home so it could be sold for the proceeds.

In order to avoid this kind of drama, an Atlanta estate planning lawyer may recommend that assets be titled in both partner’s names, with both listed as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. There are potential tax implications to taking this step, so check with your attorney to weigh your options. It is also possible for the couple to set up a situation where a surviving partner is allowed to continue to reside in a home until his or her death, having the property then pass on to the original parter’s children.

As an illustration, pretend that Joe was married to Louise, and they had three kids together. Louise passed away, and sometime later, Joe fell in love and moved in with Kelly. Unfortunately, Joe’s now-adult children don’t approve of Joe’s relationship with Kelly.  If the couple doesn’t create a legally-binding plan with an estate planning lawyer, Joe’s kids could kick Kelly out of the house upon Joe’s death.

We’ll take this a step further and say that even though they’re not supportive of Joe’s choice, he still loves his children and wants to make sure they eventually inherit the house to pay for their children’s education or whatever. But, he also wants to make sure that they cannot remove Kelly from the house out of spite or greed. Joe and Kelly could put together a plan of action with their Atlanta estate planning lawyer to stipulate that Kelly has the right to live in the house until death, and then it would become the property of Joe’s children.

This is just one scenario in which an unmarried couple would want to consider getting legal advice. Meeting with an Atlanta estate planning lawyer is a good way to find out if there are concerns that you aren’t even aware you should have based on the fact that you and your partner are not legally married.

What Happens to Your Assets in Georgia When You Don’t Leave a Will?

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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.

A Priceless Valentine’s Gift In Times of Uncertainty

Marietta GA Estate Planning Lawyer suggests the Ultimate Gift of Love for your family : an up-to-date estate plan!

Marietta GA Estate Planning Lawyer suggests the Ultimate Gift of Love for your family : an up-to-date estate plan!

 

With budgets tight and uncertainty in the air, this Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to give your loved one a priceless gift that never grows old — financial security.

Sure, you can’t stuff it in a box or wrap it with a pretty bow, but taking the time to get your financial and legal affairs in order this month is the ultimate way to show your loved ones just how much you care now, and for the future.

Think about what would happen if you were disabled, incapacitated or passed away suddenly this year. That expensive night out you spent with your “special someone” won’t do much to ensure he or she will continue to thrive in your absence. A less exciting, but meaningful gift of life insurance, for example, would have been a better expression of your love during hard times.

And, when is the last time you updated your will or trust? Are you certain that your wishes would be honored and your loved ones would be taken care of exactly as you want in an emergency? This includes minor children who, without legal guardians named for them by mom and dad, will be at the mercy of the courts.

Legal and financial planning is the ultimate way to demonstrate your love for your family where it counts the most. Make a commitment to not put it off any longer and use this Valentine’s Day to give your loved ones the long-term financial security and peace of mind they deserve.

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Steve Worrall is the Family Estate Planning Lawyer for Georgia Estate Plan: Worrall Law LLC in Marietta and Atlanta. If you’d like to give your loved ones and yourself the gift of peace of mind, please call Steve at 770-425-6060 or email him at steve@georgiaestateplan.com.

Image courtesy of cuteimage at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Estate Planning Checklist For The New Year

ID-10043426Now that the champagne has been consumed and the party horns have been put away, it’s time to really begin the New Year.   You may or may not be sticking to those resolutions you made on January 1st, but even if they are a vague memory at this point, I challenge you to add one more resolution to your list — review your estate plan.

Here’s a checklist to get you started:

  1. Look for your estate planning documents and see if they are still in the place where you left them.  Check your fireproof safe, safety deposit box, or other location where you store the actual documents.  In addition, make sure your electronic copies are where you last left them.  You may have chosen to keep them on a CD or on your home computer, in any case, make sure they are still accessible.  Additionally, make sure your heirs, executor, or trust administrator know where they are.
  1. Review your children’s long-term and short-term guardian nominations.  Has anything happened either in your children’s lives or your guardian’s lives that may make you rethink things?  Has the person (people) you’ve named as guardians moved, had a child, divorced, or remarried? If so, does this impact your decision?  Have any changes happened that might make you rethink the people you named as short-term guardians?
  1. Did any of your children turn 18?  If so, you need to make sure that they have the proper legal documents in place.  They may not have many assets so they may not need a full-blown estate plan, but they will need a signed healthcare power of attorney and living trust in case something happens to them.  Without these legal documents in place, you may not be able to speak for them.
  1. Update, review, or consider a pet trust.  If you currently have a pet trust, has anything happened that would make you rethink it?  Did something happen to your pet that may mean there are more medical expenses than you thought? Did you get a new pet this year that you want to be sure will be cared for if something happens to you?
  1. Think through 2014 and list any substantial assets you may have acquired.  If you have new assets, make sure they are transferred into your trust.  If they aren’t, those assets could end up in probate even though you thoughtfully created a trust to avoid this.
  1. Review and think about your asset distribution. Does your trust still reflect your wishes for how you would like to distribute your assets? Again, life events such as births, deaths, marriage and divorce may impact the decisions you made about this.
  1. Check your insurance policies.  Does your life insurance still reflect an amount that would support your family if something happens to you?  Has something happened in the past year that would require you raise that amount?
  1. Are you still happy with your decision regarding who should administer your estate?  Is he or she still willing to accept this duty?  Has anything happened in the last year that would make you wonder whether this person is still able to perform this function?  If you are in doubt, you may consider discussing the person you chose and make changes if necessary.
  1. Update your family’s legacy. Each year you should update your written legacy whether it is in writing or recorded.  Be sure to note family member milestones and accomplishments.   This will most likely be the most valuable part of your estate plan so be sure to spend time on this.

As I tell my clients, your estate plan is a document that changes just as your life changes.  While every change in your life doesn’t mean that you need to update your estate plan, it is important to think through the past year’s events and experiences to make sure that your estate plan will still take care of your family just has you planned.

Atlanta Estate Planning Lawyer’s Advice for Second (or Third) Marriages

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Estate planning lawyers in Atlanta work with clients at all different stages of life.  For example, many couples realize the importance of meeting with an estate planning lawyer before getting married.  While things are rarely straight forward (every situation is unique, after all), they can get pretty complicated in cases where one or both of the parties involved has been married before.

Who Owns What

When you enter a second or subsequent marriage, you’re likely bringing quite a bit of “stuff” with you.  You probably have various accounts that are all in different names: his, hers, and theirs.  The same is true of assets.  And then there are kids to consider.  Some accounts and assets might have the children’s names on them, too.

Creating an estate plan is an excellent idea in these situations.  For one thing, it helps untangle some of the confusion over who has access to what.  Not only that, but just because you intend for certain assets to go to your children, without an estate plan directing what will happen, the courts will have to make decisions based on the law, not on your intentions.

Updating Beneficiaries

In reviewing your assets with the Atlanta estate planning lawyer, you’ll want to take a look at all of your (and your spouse’s) various accounts to make sure they have the correct beneficiary designations.  Keep in mind that you very likely might have your ex-spouse named as a beneficiary on any variety of accounts.  Chances are, you’ll want to make some changes.

Develop a Strategy and Avoid the Pitfalls of Not Planning

The estate planning lawyer will be able to go through, item by item, to help you determine the best approach to distributing your estate according to your wishes.  This might involve creating a simple will that names your spouse as the primary recipient of your assets, with a certain percentage going to your children.  On the other hand, you and your spouse may prefer to actually set up completely separate trusts that reserve your pre-marriage property for only your own biological children.

An important thing to note is that if you pass away without a legally binding estate plan, your assets could be given directly to your new spouse.  Upon his or her death without a will, those assets—the ones that were originally yours—would be inherited by the spouse’s children, not yours.  This is a pretty big deal and is something that is better addressed between you and a Georgia estate planning lawyer than between bickering, resentful step-siblings later.

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