Estate planning can sometimes seem like a complicated process that the average person could never hope to understand. In reality, however, most of the questions that people have about this process could be easily answered if they knew who to ask. We get a lot of questions from clients and our neighbors in the area, and thought we would share some of the most commonly-asked questions here – along with the answers.
Do I need a will?
Absolutely. Some people think they can get by without a will, simply because they don’t think they have enough assets to actually make a will worthwhile. The fact is, though, that people who die without wills leave behind estates that are considered intestate. That leaves those people with no way to exercise any control over how assets are distributed. In addition, not making out a will could deprive you of a vital tool that can be used to name a guardian for any minor children you leave behind. You’ll also be waiving your opportunity to name your own estate executor.
Who decides how intestate estates get settled?
Intestate estates are simply those estates where there is no will to manage distribution of assets. In such an instance, the Georgia intestate laws come into play, and determine the formula used to determine which state-recognized heirs receive a set portion of your estate. The important thing to note here is that you will lose out on your right to have a say in who gets your estate assets.
Do I have to redo my will if I move here from another state?
That depends. If your will complies with the execution requirements found in Georgia state law, then that will document is perfectly valid in Georgia. Naturally, that means the will must have been properly signed and the signing was witnessed by two witnesses. However, it is important to understand that it also depends on how the will was written. If your Iowa will document makes liberal use of references to that Iowa’s state laws, for example, that could complicate issues. One way to prevent problems arising from an out-of-state will is to consult with a Georgia estate planning attorney to ensure that your plan documents are all able to accomplish your goals.
What is probate?
Probate might be one of the scariest words in the English language – but it shouldn’t be. The fact is that probate is an important part of settling estates in the modern era. Probate court is necessary for identifying assets when you die, locating creditors, paying valid outstanding bills that you might have left behind, and distributing assets in accordance with your express wishes or state law (in cases where no will was found). In addition, probate court provides a means for validating the will – thus providing an important safeguard against inheritance fraud and other nefarious actions.
Can my will keep my estate out of probate?
Not alone. As a general rule, assets are subject to probate whenever there is no other legal means for them to change ownership after death. Thus, bank accounts are subject to probate if there is no transfer-on-death provision in the account that allows it to transfer ownership when you die. Other assets are evaluated in the same way. That, of course, means that a life insurance policy that has named beneficiaries does not need to be probated since the payout is already designated for a specific person.
Should I get a trust?
That’s up to you, of course – but they can be extremely helpful for a wide variety of goals. Still, you should understand why you want a trust before you decide to get one. If you just want a trust to avoid probate – and that is one of the most common reasons people cite these days, then you may want to consult with an attorney and review whether or not you even need to worry about probate. In many instances, small estates can be resolved without any probate court involvement.
There are many instances, however, in which a trust can be beneficial. If you have children from another marriage in the past, a trust can help to prevent complications with a will when you die. And, of course, if you have substantial assets, different types of trusts can provide benefits ranging from asset protection to effective distribution of assets and even Medicaid planning.
Is there anything else I should be concerned about?
Yes. While you should have at least a basic will in place – and may want a trust as well, those documents won’t resolve all of your problems. If you think that long-term care might be in your future, then your estate planning should incorporate elements of elder law planning as well, with things like Medicaid planning to ensure that you can pay for that care when you need it. You should also be concerned about possible incapacity in the future.
Get your financial power of attorney and health care power of attorney in order so that you have someone ready to make monetary and health decisions about you if you ever lose the ability to do so on your own. Consider transfer-on-death provisions for various accounts and properties to limit the assets subject to probate. Take stock of everything in your estate and review your plan at least once a year.
Who Should I Rely on for Help?
That’s the easiest question of all, and one that we’re glad you asked! The Fouts Law Group, LLC is always available to help Georgia residents with their most pressing questions about estate planning. We do more than just answer those questions, however. Our experts can evaluate your current financial state, review with you your goals and dreams, and help you develop powerful and effective estate plan strategies that can help you reach your objectives. With our assistance, you can enjoy a plan that enables you to leave behind the legacy you’ve always dreamed of providing for your loved ones. To learn more, call us at (678) 242-8344 or contact us online today.