Welcome back to part two of this series where we discuss what exactly having a will in place will—and will not—do for you and your loved ones in terms of estate planning.
Last week, in part one, we looked at the different things having a will in place allows you to do. Here, in part two, we detail the things that your will does not do, along with identifying the specific estate planning tools and strategies that you should have in place to make up for the potential blind spots that exist in an estate plan that consists of only a will.
If you have yet to create your will, or you haven’t reviewed your existing will recently, contact us at Bluebird Law to get this vital first step in your estate planning handled right away.
While a will is a necessary part of most estate plans, your will is typically a very small part of a comprehensive estate plan. To demonstrate, here are the things you should not expect your will to accomplish:
Following your death, in order for assets in your will to be transferred to your beneficiaries, the will must pass through the court process known as probate. During probate, the court oversees the will’s administration, ensuring your assets are distributed according to your wishes, with automatic supervision to handle any disputes.
Like most court proceedings, probate can be time-consuming, costly, and open to the public. There’s also the chance that one of your family members might contest your will during probate, especially if you have disinherited someone or plan to leave significantly more money to one relative than the others. Even if those contests don’t succeed, such court fights will only increase the time, expense, and strife your family has to endure.
Bottom line: If your estate plan consists of a will alone, you are guaranteeing your family will have to go to court if you become incapacitated or when you die. Fortunately, it’s easy to ensure your loved ones can avoid probate using different types of trusts, so meet with us, your Personal Family Lawyer® to spare your family this unnecessary ordeal.
Since a will only covers assets solely owned in your name, there are several types of assets that your will has no effect on, including the following:
Because animals are considered personal property under the law, you cannot name a pet as a beneficiary in your will. If you do, whatever money you leave it would go to your residuary beneficiary, who would have no obligation to care for your pet.
It’s also not a good idea to use your will to leave your pet and money for its care to a future caregiver. That’s because the person you name as beneficiary would have no legal obligation to use the funds to care for your pet, or even care for your pet at all.
The best way to ensure your pet gets the care it deserves following your death is by creating a pet trust. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we will help you set up, fund, and maintain such a trust, so your furry family member will be properly cared for when you’re gone.
There are a number of unique considerations that must be taken into account when planning for the care of an individual with special needs. In fact, you can easily disqualify someone with special needs for much-needed government benefits if you don’t use the proper planning strategies. For this reason, a will should never be used to pass on money for the care of a person with special needs.
If you want to provide for the care of your child or another loved one with special needs, you must create a special needs trust. However, such trusts are complicated, and the laws governing them can vary greatly between states.
Given such complexities, you should always work with an experienced estate planning lawyer like us to create a special needs trust. At Bluebird Law, we can make certain that upon your death, the individual would have the financial means they need to live a full life, without jeopardizing their access to government benefits.
If your family has significant wealth, you may wish to use estate planning to reduce your estate tax liability. However, a will is useless for this purpose. To reduce or postpone your estate taxes, you will need to set up special types of trusts. If you are looking to reduce your estate tax liability, consult with us to discuss your options.
Because a will only goes into effect when you die, it offers no protection if you become incapacitated and are no longer able to make decisions about your financial, legal, and healthcare needs. If you do become incapacitated, your family will have to petition the court to appoint a guardian to handle your affairs, which can be costly, time-consuming, and traumatic for your loved ones.
And there’s always the possibility that the court could appoint a relative as a guardian that you’d never want making such critical decisions on your behalf. Or the court might select a professional guardian, putting a total stranger in control of your life.
However, using a trust, you can include provisions that appoint someone of your choosing—not the court’s—to handle your assets if you are unable to do so. When combined with a well-prepared medical power of attorney and living will, a trust can keep your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your incapacity, while ensuring your wishes regarding your medical treatment and end-of-life care are carried out exactly as you intended.
Although creating a will may seem fairly simple, you should always consult with an experienced estate planning lawyer like us to ensure the document is properly created, executed, and maintained. And as we’ve seen here, there are many scenarios in which a will won’t be the right estate planning solution, nor would a will keep your family and assets out of court.
Meet with us your Personal Family Lawyer® for a Family Wealth Planning Session, which is the first step in our Life & Legacy Planning process. During this process, we’ll walk you through an analysis of your assets, what’s most important to you, and what will happen to your loved ones when you die or if you become incapacitated. From there, we’ll work together to put in place the right combination of estate planning solutions to fit with your asset profile, family dynamics, budget, as well as your overall goals and desires.
At Bluebird Law, we see estate planning as far more than simply planning for your death and passing on your “estate” and assets to your loved ones—it’s about planning for a life you love and a legacy worth leaving by the choices you make today—and this is why we call our services Life & Legacy Planning. Contact us today to schedule your visit to ensure that your loved ones will be protected and provided for no matter what happens to you.
This article is a service of Ariel Overstreet-Adkins, Personal Family Lawyer®. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.
Disclaimer: Reading this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship. Individual situations require independent review and advice. Please consult an attorney for your specific situation.