A Note From Paige
I hope you are having a safe, happy summer! Have you created or updated your estate plan recently? If you’ve had it on your to do list, now is the time. People contact us at all times of year. The summer is an excellent time to get this done as many take vacation. Contact me
before you leave for vacation to schedule an appointment so your wishes can be available to your family members or trusted individuals.
On Thursday, July 28 I’ll be speaking at the Decatur chapter of BNI International
. I’ll be leading a discussion about the increasingly important role that digital assets play in our lives and our estate plans. Contact me
for more information or if you’d like to attend the meeting as a guest.
Covering the Basics
Some of you asked about taking the first step of estate planning with a basic Will. Our estate planning packages are designed to provide a lower, flat-rate fee when you request multiple documents, but not everyone wants or needs a full package right away. We listened to your feedback, and for a limited time, we will offer a Basic Will option for married couples, domestic partners, and single persons at a reduced fee. If you want to keep the budget basic this Summer, we can help. Contact us
for more information and to schedule your appointment.
(Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Covering the Basics: Estate Planning 101
In previous newsletters, I’ve focused on specific, specialized aspects of estate planning, such as digital assets, choosing a guardian for minor children, and how to include charitable donations in a will or a trust. This month, I’m going back to the basics with an overview of what an estate plan is, common documents that make up an estate plan in Georgia, and why every adult should have a plan in place.
What is an Estate Plan?
Your estate is comprised of all your property, including your debts and assets. Many people form the misconception that only the wealthy have estate plans. Not true.
If you have a bank account in your name, you have an estate.
An estate plan, therefore, consists of a group of documents that explains your wishes for all sorts of things, including but not limited to:
- Who will carry out your wishes regarding the type of life sustaining medical treatment, if any, that you’d like to receive in the event you are unable to make the decision yourself,
- Who will take care of your children after you’re gone, and
- Who will receive your favorite jewelry or collectibles.
What are the common documents found in an estate plan?
Because your estate plan should reflect your particular wishes, your documents can—and should—be customized to fit your individual needs. An attorney can help you decide which documents can accomplish your estate planning goals. The following documents are frequently included in an estate plan in Georgia:
1. A Last Will and Testament
A Will provides a detailed explanation of what you’d like to happen to your property after you’re gone. In many ways, it serves as an instruction manual for your loved ones. The Will defines the various types of property you own and how you would like them distributed. The people (friends or family) and/or charities
to whom you leave your property are known as beneficiaries
. (An heir
, by contrast, is a person who would inherit according to state law if you didn’t have a Will and died intestate.)
In addition to providing instructions for distributing your property, your Will may also designate a guardian for minor children
or anyone else under your care. If you have pets or a service animal
, you can provide instructions for his or her care in your Will, too.
In order to ensure your wishes are upheld, you designate an executor in your Will to ascertain the condition of the estate and supervise the payment of debts and the distribution of assets. If you are at a loss as to who to appoint, your attorney can help you choose an executor. Communication is key, so it’s important that you speak with the person you would like to select to see if he/she would take on this role.
2. A Trust
You can also opt to put your property “in trust.” In this type of relationship, you will assign someone (the trustee
) to manage the assets on behalf of a beneficiary. Many different types of trusts exist; two common types of trusts are testamentary trusts and stand-alone trusts. Testamentary trusts are drafted in a will and are created upon the will-owner’s (or testator’s
) death. A stand-alone trust, by contrast, is created independently of an estate plan while the testator is alive.
Trusts are beneficial for several reasons. For example, trusts can allow parents of minor children to set aside assets until the children are old enough to inherit. Trusts can also be effective tools to help you avoid probate.
3. An Advance Healthcare Directive
The advance healthcare directive replaced the living will and power of attorney for healthcare in Georgia in July 2007. In the advance healthcare directive, you assign an agent and a back up agent who can make healthcare-related decisions on your behalf, if
you cannot make those decisions yourself due to certain events. This document also allows you to direct the withholding or withdrawal of life-sustaining procedures and nourishment if you are in a terminal condition and/or a state of permanent unconsciousness.
4. Financial Power of Attorney
A financial power of attorney assigns an agent to make financial decisions on your behalf by granting the agent access to your financial accounts so that he/she can make payments, withdraw money, and take other actions associated with these accounts.
A financial power of attorney document can be either durable
. A durable power of attorney document takes effect as soon as it is signed in the presence of a notary and impartial witness; this can be beneficial, for example, if you’ll be unable to access your accounts during an extended vacation and you need someone trusted to act on your behalf. Contrast that with a conditional or springing power of attorney, which will take effect if you are incapacitated or otherwise unable to make financial decisions. The attorney drafting your documents can help you decide which type of document works best for you.
Conclusion: Why is having an estate plan important?
An estate plan provides a comprehensive guide to your loved ones on how to manage your medical treatment, your financial accounts and other property, and the care of your children or anyone else in your care. Without an estate plan, the state will distribute your property according to the intestacy laws of Georgia, and the results are often NOT
what people want. Intestacy
—dying without a will—creates a fertile ground for disputes between prospective heirs and ignores whatever wishes, if any, you had expressed to family members about what you wanted to happen to you and your property after your death.
In sum, estate planning is a vital way to protect your wishes and help your loved ones. I can help you create a plan custom-tailored to your needs and help you maintain and update your plan as needed. Contact me
to get started.