Most estate planning lawyers will tell you the one opening line they hear most often is, “I’m not even sure I need to have a will.” To that end, we explain that a will covers far more than one’s finances. There’s a lot at stake and ensuring your wishes are met and your loved ones are seen to in the event of your death is what a will is really about. A properly defined estate plan will legally protect and then distribute your property based on your wishes. If for no other reason, you should consider putting an estate plan in place for the tax benefits your loved ones might reap from having those bases covered.
Wills are practical. They’re usually more simple than most realize and they can be written in a short amount of time. Contrary to what you see in the movies, a will preparation isn’t an extensive time investment and the reading of the will is never as dramatic as it’s made out to be in the movies.
It can also be simple; simply memorializing your wishes and how you want your possessions disbursed is often all that defines a will. If you have charitable organizations you wish to acknowledge with a gift, that can easily be included in your efforts as well.
Seeking out legal advice is a smart choice. It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out relationship with an attorney, but getting that foundation in place can mean a lifetime of quality legal advice for all of life’s uncertainties. There are rules for how your estate is handled and each state is different. Divorce plays a role as does remarriage. We never know where life leads us.
Regardless of which state you call home, there are a few universal rules that are applicable around the country:
In most states, you must be 18 years of age or older to put into place a legally binding will. There are those instances where extraordinary circumstances dictate otherwise. You must also be of both sound mind and judgment. Your mental capacity must be able to understand what you’re entering into.
Also, an executor will be named. This is the person you trust to distribute your assets after you’ve died. His or her role will be important as this person is responsible for taking an inventory of your estate, securing an appraisal if necessary, distributing your assets, paying taxes and covering any remaining debts associated with your estate. Remember: he is legally obligated to see through your final wishes, so you may want to avoid choosing anyone who disagrees with decisions you made in life – not that they might disregard your final wishes, but because it could put them in a difficult situation.
In most states, any person over the age of 18, who hasn’t been convicted of a felony, can be named executor of a will. Some people choose a lawyer, accountant or financial consultant based on their experience while others prefer their spouses, an adult child, a close friend or other relative to fill this role. In some instances, depending on the estate, it can be a bit demanding, so be sure to discuss it before naming anyone to that role.
Finally, don’t forget the role of your estate planning attorney. His goal is always to ensure you’re confident in the process and to also keep legalities associated with the process in check.