October 19th-25th, 2020 is National Estate Planning Awareness Week, so if you’ve been thinking about creating an estate plan, but still haven’t gotten to it, now is the perfect time to get it done. If you or anyone you love has yet to create a plan, contact us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to get your plan started today.
There are several rationalizations you can make to yourself about not making an estate plan: “I won’t care because I’ll be dead,” “I’m too young,” “That won’t happen to me,” or “My family will know what to do.”
These thoughts all come from a mix of pride, denial, and above all, a lack of real education about estate planning. After you learn the kind of consequences your family could face without the protections of a properly prepared estate plan, you will realize that you need to drop the excuses and begin working on a plan immediately.
In the event of your death or incapacity, your family will have to clean up your mess and go through a long and costly process doing so if you don’t have a plan in place. While each estate and family are unique, here are some of the things most likely to happen to you and your loved ones if you fail to create a plan.
1: Your family will have to go to court
If you don’t have a plan, or if you only have a will, your family will be forced to go through probate to claim your assets. Probate is the legal process for settling your estate and even if you have a will, it’s notoriously slow, costly, and public. However, with no plan at all, probate can be an even worse nightmare for your loved ones.
Probate can take months or even years to complete. Similar to most court proceedings, probate can be expensive. Often, once all of your debts, taxes, and court fees have been paid, there might be nothing left for anyone to inherit and if there are any assets left your family will likely have to pay hefty attorney’s fees and court costs in order to claim them.
Beyond the fees and the protracted nature of probate is the frustration and anxiety it can cause your loved ones. While grieving your death, planning your funeral, and contacting everyone you’re close with, your family will also be stuck dealing with a crowded court system that can be a confusing challenge to navigate even in the best of circumstances. The entire affair is open to the public as well, which adds another layer of difficulty to your family, especially if the wrong people take an interest in your family’s affairs.
That’s why making a comprehensive estate plan that avoids all of that hassle and conflict is so crucial. Using a trust can ensure that your assets pass directly to your family upon your death without the need for any court intervention.
2: You have no control over who inherits your assets
The court will decide who inherits your assets in the absence of a proper plan and this can lead to all sorts of problems. The court determines who is entitled to your property by what is dictated in your state’s intestate succession laws, which look largely upon whether you are married and if you have children.
This is because spouses and children are given top priority, followed by your other closest living family members. So if you are single with no children your assets typically go to your parents and siblings, and then more distant relatives if you have no living parents or siblings. It’s important to note that state intestacy laws only apply to blood relatives, so unmarried partners and/or close friends would get nothing and your assets go to the state in the case that no living relatives can be located.
But you can change all of this with a plan and ensure your assets pass the way you want. If you want someone outside of your family to inherit your property, having a plan is an absolute must.
If you’re married with children and die with no plan, you might think that nothing too horrific could happen, but that is not always the case, even if you don’t view. If you’re married but have children from a previous relationship, for example, the court could give everything to your spouse and leave your children out. Or you might be in the middle of a divorce, but without a plan, state law controls who gets your assets, not you.
Dying without a plan could also cause your surviving family members to get into an ugly court battle over who has the most right to your property, or if you become incapacitated, your loved ones could even get into conflict over your medical care. It understandable to not think that of your loved ones, but time and time again even when there is little in the way of financial wealth involved, we have seen families torn apart by these situations.
We can help you create a plan that handles your assets and your care in the exact manner you wish, accounting for all of your family dynamics so your death or incapacity won’t have to be any more painful or expensive for your family than it needs to be.
3: You have no control over your medical, financial, or legal decisions in the event of your incapacity
A common misconception is that estate planning only helps with planning for things after your death – but that is completely untrue. While planning for what happens after your death is a big part of the process, estate planning also has room to plan for your potential incapacity due to accident or illness.
Your family would have to petition the court to appoint a guardian or conservator to manage your affairs if you were to become incapacitate without a plan. Similar to probate, this process can be extremely costly, time consuming, and traumatic for everyone involved. Actually, incapacity can be a much greater burden for your loved ones than your death.
We, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, can help you put planning vehicles in place that grant the person(s) of your choice the immediate authority to make your medical, financial, and legal decisions for you in the event of your incapacity. We can also implement planning strategies that provide specific guidelines detailing how you want your medical care to be managed, including critical end-of-life decisions.
4: You have no control over who will raise your children
Finally, the most devastating consequence of having no estate plan is what could happen to your kids in the event of your death or incapacity if you are the parent of minor children. Without a plan in place naming legal guardians for your kids, it will be left for a judge to decide who cares for your children, and this could cause major heartbreak not only for your children, but for your entire family.
A judge is expected to select the best person to care for your kids, but it doesn’t always work out that way. The fact is that without your guidance, the judge is just a complete stranger with no idea what you would want for your children. Indeed, the judge could pick someone from your family you’d never want to raise them to adulthood because, legally, that person seems to be the best choice. If you don’t have any family, or the family you do have is deemed unfit, your children could easily be raised by total strangers for the same reason.
Also, without your plan directing your children’s guardians, multiple relatives could fight each other over who gets custody. This can get extremely ugly and otherwise well-meaning family members will fight one another for years, paying for lawyers the entire time while your kids are stuck in the middle of the bitter dispute.
With this in mind, if you have minor children, your number-one planning priority should be naming legal guardians to care for your children if anything should happen to you. This is so critical that we’ve developed a comprehensive system called the Kids Protection Plan® that guides you step-by-step through the process of creating the legal documents naming these guardians.
While naming legal guardians won’t keep your family out of court, since a judge is always required to finalize the legal naming of guardians in the event of death or incapacity of parents, but it gives the judge a great insight into what is best for your family. On top of that, you need to take action to keep your kids out of the care of strangers over the immediate term, while the authorities figure out what to do if you’re incapacitated or dead. We handle that in a Kids Protection Plan®, too. So if it’s important to you who raises your kids if you can’t, you need to give the judge clear direction.
No more excuses
Now that you are aware the potentially dire consequences for both you and your family, you know that you simply cannot afford to put off creating your estate plan any longer. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we will guide you step-by-step through the planning process to ensure you’ve taken all the proper precautions to spare your loved ones from needless frustration, conflict, and expense. Don’t wait another day—contact us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to schedule an appointment, so you can finally settle this urgent task.
This article is a service of Levi Alexander, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t 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.