Discussing and planning for life after your death may be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary. Protect your assets and provide for your family with the help of one of our Dover estate planning attorneys. At Batson Nolan PLC, we create personalized estate plans that meet your needs and satisfy your goals. Contact us today.
What Is Estate Planning?
Estate planning is the process of creating a strategy and using tools to plan for your death or incapacity. The process involves arranging your assets, appointing others to make decisions for you, and communicating your final wishes. Estate planning encompasses finances, medical decisions, family needs, charitable giving, and creating a legacy.
Why Is Estate Planning Important?
Many people think estate planning is just for wealthy individuals, married couples with children, or those who are nearing retirement. The truth is, if you have assets in your name, you have an estate—and if you have an estate, you should have an estate plan.
Estate Planning Allows You to Plan for the Unexpected
A big part of estate planning is facilitating the transfer of your assets once you pass away. However, estate planning also includes planning for life. Maybe a life you didn’t expect. For instance, if you’re in a car accident that leaves you incapable of caring for yourself, who would step in? Who would manage your money? Who would care for your children? With the right documents in place, you can continue to provide for your family even if you lose the mental or physical ability to do so yourself.
You Can Control What Happens to Your Assets
Without an estate plan in place, you have no say over how your property is distributed after your death. Instead, the state’s laws of intestate succession apply and dictate who gets what. What the law says within these default, one-size-fits-all rules is probably not what you had in mind for how you want your assets distributed. Take control and put your instructions on paper with the help of one of our Dover estate planning lawyers.
Your Estate Plan Can Prevent Family Conflicts and Save Money
Death and money change people. Simple disagreements over what mom and dad “would have wanted” can quickly land your family in court. With an estate plan, you can get ahead of any disputes between family members before they start. By strategically arranging your assets, you can also spare your family some tax hits and the burden of probate.
What Documents Are Included in an Estate Plan?
No two estate plans are exactly the same. Each person has different finances, family dynamics, and priorities. That being said, there are some fundamental documents that make up a comprehensive estate plan.
Last Will and Testament
A Last Will and Testament (or will) is a legal document that instructs how to distribute your assets after death. With a will, you can also appoint an executor to administer your estate. This person is in charge of the entire probate process, which includes collecting your assets, notifying creditors and heirs of your death, paying debts, and transferring your property to the legal beneficiaries.
If you have minor children, your will is where you can appoint a guardian to care for them in the event of your death.
Powers of Attorney
A power of attorney is a legal document that gives someone (the agent) decision-making authority for another person (the principal). The powers granted to the agent can be broad or limited. There are several different types of powers of attorney, but the one that everyone over 18 should have is a durable power of attorney.
With this document, you can choose an agent to control your finances if you become unable to do so. For example, if you are in a debilitating accident or suffer a disease that renders you mentally incompetent, your agent can continue to pay your bills and manage your assets with a durable power of attorney.
A living will is a legal document that specifies your medical treatment preferences and wishes if you become unable to communicate that information. This document is where you spell out end-of-life care preferences, burial arrangements, and if you want to donate your organs.
There is also a document called a Medical Power of Attorney, which is used to choose someone to make personal and medical decisions if you’re incapable. In Tennessee, however, the content of living wills and medical powers of attorney are combined into what is known as advance directives. With an advance directive form, you can appoint an agent and make your health care specifications known all in one place.
Trusts aren’t necessary for everyone, but they can be a powerful estate planning tool when used properly. To set up a trust, the creator (or settlor) spells out the terms of how the trust will function, appoints a trustee to manage the trust, and designates a beneficiary. Trusts come in all shapes and sizes and can serve a variety of purposes.
When you transfer property to a trust, it can protect those assets from creditors and offer significant tax advantages. Keeping your property in a trust can also help your heirs avoid probate, saving time and money. An experienced Dover estate planning attorney can discuss your options and help you decide if a trust is right for you.
When Should You Start Estate Planning?
The best time to start the estate planning process is right now. Of course, it’s tempting to put off estate planning for a more convenient time. But accidents and death can happen in an instant. For example, if you were suddenly involved in an accident, who would take care of your minor children? Would your loved ones know what medical treatment you want (or don’t want) to receive? How would your property be distributed after your death? Without an estate plan, these are all open questions. Thus, given the uncertainty of what the future holds, it is best to prepare for the unexpected and get started on an estate plan as soon as possible.
What Is an Executor’s Role in Estate Planning?
An executor is a person who oversees the administration of a deceased person’s estate. Those individuals who created a will have typically designated an executor in their will. However, if you die without a will, the court will appoint someone to administer your estate.
Initially, an executor is usually the one who presents the deceased person’s will to the probate court. From there, the court will formally appoint the executor.
Once appointed, an executor takes on a number of duties, each of which must be completed before the court permits them to distribute estate assets to beneficiaries. For example, a typical list of duties for an executor includes:
- Locating all estate assets,
- Determining the value of estate assets,
- Identifying and paying off all of the estate’s outstanding debts,
- Paying any estate taxes owed to the federal government,
- Handling any challenges to the validity of the will, and
- Distributing assets to beneficiaries and heirs according to the terms of the will.
In some cases, an executor can carry out their obligations with ease. However, in the event that a loved one initiates a will contest or other estate litigation, the process can quickly become overwhelming. An experienced Dover estate planning lawyer can assist executors in fulfilling their duties in even the most challenging scenarios.
Contact the Dover Estate Planning Attorney at Batson Nolan PLC
Let us help you start planning your legacy today. At Batson Nolan PLC, we offer a full range of legal services related to estate planning. Whether you want a simple will drawn up or need sophisticated tax planning incorporated into your estate plan, we can help.