August 11th, 2018 | Updated on January 2nd, 2021
What is a will? It is a legal document that details a person’s wishes regarding the distribution, and management of his or her assets. It can also detail the maker’s wishes concerning the care for his or her minor children or spouse. About 70% of the adults in the US do not have a will. Are you one of them? Then it is time to outline one right now.
A will can serve the following purposes –
- Specify the management and distribution of your assets.
- Dictate who is assigned to care for your minor children or specially-abled child or spouse in your absence.
Who should draft a will?
Contrary to popular belief, a testament or will is not just for the rich and famous. Even the daily bread earner needs to outline his or her wishes regarding their assets for the wellbeing of their children, spouse and other family members.
The reality is that every adult person should have a will, but only about one-third of US citizens have one. Irrespective of the value of your estate, a will has the power to dictate how your assets are handled and what is passed on to each beneficiary, and more importantly, it ensures that the process is quick and avoids long and costly legal issues.
Along with drafting a will, you must appoint an executor, that is, a person you trust to execute your wishes after your passing. Your requests can include anything from paying utility bills for your minor children to canceling your credit cards within a month, etc.
In the absence of a will, the court will make most of the decisions on your behalf. This is part of the probate process, which can be strenuous and lengthy.
Probate rarely results in something favorable for your surviving family members, and making modifications to any probate rulings is a very long, costly and frustrating process. The ensuing anxiety and confusion can result in loss of money, seizure of property and foreclosure of assets.
In the event of multiple claimants to a business or a property, the court can decide in favor of selling the assets and distributing the proceeds among the claimants equally, which is rarely the preference for the surviving family members or business owners.
It might seem ridiculous to contemplate eventual death just when life seems flourishing and beautiful. However, that is the best time to decide who should take charge of your estate in the event the worst was to unexpectedly happen.
Unless you make your own plans, you will subject your inheritors to delays, anxiety and unwanted outcomes. No one wants to run between attorneys’ offices and the court when they are mourning the loss of a loved one. But, all of this can be prevented with proper legal preparation done before hand by a qualified estate planning lawyer.
What are some of the things you should consider when hiring your estate planning lawyer?
When it comes to estate planning, not all plans are created equal. Whether you’re in need of a will, or trust or any other form of asset protection and/or management, the many complexities of the law and its application to your specific situation make it extremely important that you work with an attorney that specializes in estate planning, has years of experience in this field and the reputation that comes along with it.
The greater the value of your estate, the greater the complexity of the process that will be required to properly manage, handle and eventually execute your final wishes. For these and other reasons it is extremely important to keep each of the following factors in mind when choosing your estate planning lawyer:
- A general law practitioner typically does not have the experience necessary to manage a complicated estate. Just as you would not go to a corporate lawyer for assistance on a criminal case, you should not go to a general attorney for estate planning. It is important to find someone, who has the expertise and time-tested knowledge to deal with the complexities of your situation with confidence.
- You will be sharing a significant portion of your life’s details with your estate planning attorney. Therefore, confidence, discretion, and professionalism are crucial for this role. You should not have any reservations and be able to openly share even your most intimate thoughts, fears and your concerns with the estate planning professional so that the final execution truly meets your expectations.
- Although in most cases you are able to continue to make changes to your will and estate plan, it is important to understand that in your absence any changes won’t be possible unless proper measures are taken beforehand. By working with an experienced and reputable estate planning attorney you can have peace of mind knowing that all your needs are being met and that, in your absence, your loved ones won’t be faced with unnecessary obstacles and surprises.
For Florida residents, Stuart estate planning experts offer an excellent choice for ensuring that your inheritors receive the maxim legally possible value from your estate and that the process is quick and in accordance with your wishes.
How can you save on taxes by working with an experienced estate lawyer?
A reliable and experienced estate planning attorney is always up to date with the latest tax laws and aware of any tax-saving tips. The exemption from estate taxes or estate tax exclusion sets the limit above which inheritance taxes are incurred. The limit for exemption was $5 million in 2010, $5.43 million in 2015 and it is currently $11.2 million in 2018.
Did you know? The federal estate tax exemption is portable between spouses. Therefore, each spouse has a particular share of exemption, and it is transferable between them. In the event of one’s passing, the survivor can enjoy a portion of the unused exemption as detailed in the testament. For that to happen, the estate of the testator or testatrix must file a tax return at the federal level.
It is irrespective of the status of any tax payments so that the surviving benefactor can enjoy the remaining portion of the exemption. An estate planning lawyer should manage this process. Accurate planning, precise document collection and astute knowledge of the updated state and federal laws are imperative for the success of any estate plan.
Why is it important to pick a reputable estate plan attorney?
Sometimes, hiring an estate planning lawyer may not seem like the most cost-effective option. However, it is important to understand that you are paying for the years’ of knowledge and experience they have gathered, the scores of certificates on their walls, and how all of this provides you the peace of mind of knowing that you are doing things right the first time and are preventing possible mistakes that can become extremely long, costly and sometimes even irreparable.
How can you help the executor in the process?
There are several things you should do to ensure the proper execution of your will. These include creating a list of beneficiaries, proposed executor, guardians and the identification details of each person on it. Keeping records of small debts, unpaid mortgages and credit card payments will also help in the smoother transition of your business and personal assets. Next, you should provide a list of your assets including the following –
- Savings accounts
- Investments like bonds, mutual funds, and stocks
- IRA, pension accounts, retirement plans and the 401(k)
- Share ownership in the enterprise(s)
- Personal property that might be of unique value to you and your family
- Life insurance policies and other annuities
- Vehicle details including cars, boats, and planes
Additionally, always maintain copies of all existing trusts, prenups, divorce agreements, previous wills and similar legal documents that might affect the future of your will.
Life is unpredictable. There is no telling when sunshine can turn into a heavy storm. To shelter your family and provide peace of mind for yourself, you should gift them the certainty of a proper estate plan and will. Although there are several ways of drafting a will and chalking an estate plan, you should always have an experienced estate lawyer to hold your hand through the process.