The law of “estate planning” controls what happens to your money, investments, real estate, vehicles, personal possessions, and other assets after your death as well as the management of those assets and your personal care during your lifetime if you become unable to make complex decisions.
Consequences of Not Having an Estate Plan
When you die without an estate plan, the law demands that your assets be shared amongst your next-of-kin, which could include a spouse, children, parents, siblings, or even cousins. For many, these default rules often result in their assets going to who they would have wished, but for those people with nuanced wishes, the default rules are not well suited to their goals.
Most importantly, should you die without an estate plan, your assets will likely need to be “probated” before your next-of-kin can control or sell them. The probate process is overseen by a judge and costs hundreds in filing fees and bond premiums and significantly more in attorney fees should one be hired to advise your loved ones about the complexities of administration. The probate process is lengthy, often lasting more than a year, and open for public inspection. With proper planning, however, the entire probate process can be avoided and your intended heirs can immediately and privately take possession of your assets upon your death.
Without a plan in place, should you become incapacitated and unable to manage your financial or healthcare decisions during your lifetime someone will need to petition a court to be appointed your “guardian.” The guardianship process is tedious, often requiring a guardian to report every penny they manage and justify every expense paid. While this rigorous supervision is appropriate in certain circumstances, for most people it results in unnecessary costs, stress, and frustration. Luckily, you can execute documents called “powers of attorney” that will empower individuals of your choice to act on your behalf and according to your wishes without the need for court approval or supervision.
Typical Estate Planning Documents
A Will is regarded as your “testimony” about what should occur with your assets and related matters following your death. For this reason, a Will is often called your “Last Will and Testament”. In a Will, you can:
- Direct when and under what conditions your chosen heirs receive your assets
- Appoint the person or persons you wish to oversee the distribution of your assets and the settlement of your final debts
- Nominate the person or persons you want to care for your minor children
A Trust is akin to an "entity" such as a corporation or company but designed for the specific purpose of managing assets for the benefit of certain people or charities called "beneficiaries" and overseen by a "trustee". Because a Trust is regarded as an entity distinct from yourself, should you have conveyed your assets to your Trust during your lifetime, upon your death the Trust remains the owner of your assets, which eliminates the need for a court to supervise the transition of your assets from you to your heirs. Instead, the Trust continues to operate according to the instructions you have left, which generally include nominating a successor Trustee and directing him or her to distribute your assets to your preferred beneficiaries with or without conditions. Such conditions could be that the assets are held until a beneficiary reaches a certain age and used to help that beneficiary in the meantime. Another condition, called a "special needs trust", could be that the assets are used in a way that allows the beneficiary to retain financial eligibility for governmental services.
Powers of Attorney
A Power of Attorney is a document that empowers someone of your choosing to make decisions on your behalf regarding either your financial and heath care matters or both. These documents are endlessly flexibly and can be drafted to grant narrow authority over only specific issues or can convey broad authority.
What We Offer
The law of estate planning effects everyone, no matter how wealthy. KSW Law is dedicated to helping ordinary folks affordably create estate plans to ensure the orderly and efficient administration of their affairs according to their wishes. That is why we do our best to keep our prices low and transparent. After an initial consultation with one of our attorneys, we will promptly provide you a fixed fee for our services, which means you can predict exactly how much it will cost to complete your estate plan from beginning to end. For more information, please review our price guide available here