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Estate Planning: So you can decide who will inherit your assets

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Estate planning is the process of deciding how to effectively transfer your assets, at death, and during your lifetime.  Without proper Estate Planning you could unnecessarily lose a sizable portion of your estate to taxes. While avoiding taxes is an obvious reason for Estate Planning, a more important reason may be in its ability to allow you to direct the transfer of your assets after death.

If you have an old Will, it may be time for an upgrade.

Once executed, your will should be updated regularly, especially under these circumstances: A birth, marriage or divorce in the family; a move to another state; a change in tax laws; a change in the status of dependent children; impending retirement; or a change in personal circumstances or needs.

An out-of-date will can be more trouble than having no will at all. Consider a situation involving a man who executed a will in 2001, giving $10,000 to a woman he named as a "friend." A year later, the man and woman get married.  The man dies in 2004. Unfortunately, the man never updated his will. At her husband's death, the woman claimed her elective share as a wife (one-third of the total estate) rather than abiding by the terms of the will. The man's children from his first marriage objected.  The court could decide that the surviving spouse is limed to $10,000.00 from the estate.

The following is 10 life changes that have the potential to affect your estate and would indicate the need for a revised Will:

  • Births
  • Marriage or divorce-yours or one of your children's
  • The death or incapacity of a named beneficiary in your will
  • Changes in your personal net worth
  • Change of your needs or your beneficiaries' needs
  • Change of residence-Do you now live in a different state? Check the laws of that state.
  • Changes in the tax law
  • Change of personal representative of your estate or guardian of dependents under your care
  • New charitable interests
  • Retirement

What Happens If You Die without a Will?
If you don't have a valid will, the state where you are domiciled (i.e., the state in which you live most of the time, vote, have your driver's license) will decide what happens to your assets.  For example, in Georgia, if you die leaving a surviving spouse and two children, and no will, the surviving spouse does not inherit the estate. 

Planning for Your Will.

 If you are married or single, if you have children or relatives, you need a will.  If you have charitable causes you want to help perpetuate, you need a will. If you own a home or have a bank account, stocks or any other kind of property, you need a will.

Having your will prepared by an attorney and executed according to state guidelines is essential. Several steps are necessary for a will to be legal.

  • It should be in writing.
  • It should be signed by the one creating the will.
  • It should be acknowledged to be the will of the person who signs it.
  • It should be dated.

People who are not beneficiaries of the will must witness the signature of the person who creates the will. They must also sign it as witnesses.  Also, if a will is notarized by a third witness it makes the process of probating the Will much easier.  

Kevin J. Pratt

Attorney At Law

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