You’ve said it before: “This year, I will make a will. This year, I will make sure that my family is provided for, just in case.”
You know you need to. You know that an estate left intestate creates a financial and legal burden for your family that prevents them from receiving the legacy you meant to leave them.
But then, you get busy at work and with family, and calling your estate attorney begins to fall farther and farther down to the bottom of the to-do list.
Well, not this year. Experts say one of the best ways to make sure you keep your resolution is to tell someone about it. Let your friends and family members know about your plans. That way, they can remind and encourage you to follow through. Better yet, call a qualified estate-planning attorney and make an appointment today while it is fresh in your mind.
Some surveys suggest that as many as 70 percent of American adults have no estate plan at all. Without at least a will in place, the ultimate decisions about how your estate will be distributed will be made by the government.
A will is the first step to accomplishing a well-thought-out estate plan. The will states who you are, who you want to settle your estate and how you want your things distributed. A will should revoke any prior wills you have created and will set guardians for any minor children.
If you already have a will, you should consult with your estate attorney about what else you need to assure that your family is protected. Depending upon your situation and your goals, you may want to ask about a durable power of attorney, a health care directive, a HIPAA release, a trust or other elements that work in concert with your will to protect you, your family and your assets.
While certainly a good start, a will can be a clumsy way to distribute your assets. Wills must be processed through probate court. The probate process can be lengthy, expensive and can be fraught with unexpected surprises. Probate is a public process that any adult with an interest in your estate could use to contest your will, subjecting your family to litigation.
A trust is a private, legal alternative to a will that does not require probate. Your estate attorney can help you draft many different types of trusts depending on your needs, but one of the most popular is a revocable living trust. An RLT is a flexible estate-planning strategy that holds your assets but still allows you to use them while you are alive and distribute them after your death. It also can provide a seamless transition of legal authority of your assets to take care of you and your family if you become incapacitated.
Other kinds of trusts can be used to accomplish an amazing array of goals from tax planning to legacy building to asset protection. These include a life insurance trust, qualified personal-residence trust, charitable-remainder trust, grantor-retained annuity trust and gifting trust.
Don’t let another year go by with your family and assets unprotected. Contact a qualified estate-planning attorney today and give yourself the gift of peace of mind.
Barid of Richmond Hill and Smith are co-founders of Savannah-based Smith Barid LLC, which specializes in estate and special-needs planning.