There is no denying, the COVID19 pandemic forced us to ask ourselves some important questions. Have I prioritized my health and well-being? Do I have enough saved for an emergency? Do I want the ventilator or not? Who gets my property should I die? Suddenly we faced the cold realization, there is no guarantee of tomorrow. As social activities deferred to a later date, the idea of creating a will began moving to the top of many a to-do list.
When preparing a legal document, it’s always wise to consult a professional. We talked with colleague and friend, Mary Fern Breheney, Esq. Here’s what she wants everyone to know.
Why do you need a will?
If you care about how your property and financial assets are distributed, a will is the written legal document that specifies and carries out your wishes. Without this document, your property will be disposed of according to the inheritance laws governed by your state of residence. That may ultimately be okay with you, but do educate yourself before relinquishing control.
When you die, your Will is submitted to the Court for Probate. This gives your Executor the authority to locate assets and distribute your estate according to the terms of your will.
Mary Breheney also advises, “Be sure you know the difference between probate and non-probate.” For example, assets with named beneficiaries supersede the directives of a will.
What should be included for planning purposes?
You need to know how your real estate is owned, how your assets are titled (joint or individually owned), and whether you have named beneficiaries on financial accounts and insurance policies. To prepare for estate planning, gather documentation for all of your assets including: real estate, business interests, retirement accounts, bank accounts, investments, life insurance, annuities, cars, boats, jewelry, art and furniture.
Who should benefit and in what way?
Decide how your property and financial assets should be distributed and understand what assets the will controls. Your attorney will ask if beneficiaries and loved ones have special needs or spending problems. A Trusts & Estates attorney will counsel clients on the pros and cons of outright inheritances or including Testamentary Trusts in your will.
Naming an executor.
Mary noted, “A will allows you to appoint someone you trust to manage the process, as executor, trustee or guardian.” She recommends thoughtfully considering your selection. It is equally important to name back-up or alternate executors, in case the first choice is unable or unwilling to take on the responsibilities of the job. The role of executor is, more often than not, a time consuming, detail-oriented position. Discuss the possible challenges with your chosen executors and consider adding an estate professional to assist with these duties.
Where is your signed will?
Let your executor know where exactly your original executed will is to be found. Revisit the document every few years and revise if necessary. Keeping the document current ensures your wishes are carried out.
Don’t forget your favorite nonprofit organization.
Legacy gifts are a meaningful source of support for nonprofit organizations. Mary Breheney says that many clients, even those of modest means, consider including meaningful philanthropic gifts to reputable organizations in their estate plans. There are a number of ways to do this and it’s always good to first consult with your attorney.
Designate a health care proxy.
The pandemic brought a sense of urgency, not only, to the need for a written will, but also to the designation of an agent in a healthcare proxy. Take this opportunity to create this document which authorizes a person to make healthcare decisions when you are unable. And naturally, let that person know how to carry out your wishes.
Finding an attorney.
Although there are many ways to create legal documents online, doing that without an experienced attorney is risky. You might save some cash up front, but your heirs could lose big bucks to an error. Get a personal reference for an estate planning attorney, or do some on-line looking to complete the process of documenting your final wishes with confidence. It will give you back a sense of control.