Estate Planning Lawyer Helping You Plan Your Future In Portage
When it comes to organizing your assets, taking the time to be ahead of the game can be a huge blessing to those you leave behind. By making sure that you have adequate documentation and protections in place, you can help to reduce the chances of contested wills, intestate succession, or unnecessary confusion after your death.
What Is Involved In Estate Planning?
As the name suggests, estate planning involves putting steps in place to plan and prepare for what will happen to your assets and belongings after your death. This can also include making provisions to cater for the possibility of future incapacity, to cover any nursing home or care bills, and deciding what will happen to your assets and estate after your death.
Failing to make the necessary provisions prior to your death could result in your friends and family having to face the rigors of probate and this can make an already painful situation far more difficult.
What Is Probate?
Probate is a legal process which will be automatically activated if you die owning property in your sole name, without a beneficiary and without a joint owner. It occurs with or without having a valid will in place. Your assets will be under the jurisdiction of the court, and an executor appointed. This will be a named party, such as a spouse or family member, who will take over responsibility for gathering the assets of the deceased. They will need to contact any creditors to ensure that outstanding taxes or unpaid debts are taken care of and will then need to transfer any assets which remain to the beneficiaries of the estate – usually the spouse and any children. Depending on the complexity of the estate, probate can take anywhere from six months to a year or more, and can be a complicated and painful process.
How Can I Avoid Probate?
The easiest way to avoid probate is to ensure that you have a trust set up, allowing your assets to be easily transferred after your death. The two main estate planning options to choose from are trusts or wills.
- Wills: Wills are perhaps the most recognizable estate planning choice, andconsist of a document, signed by two witnesses, which states your wishes for your assets upon your death. You must be the age of 18 to draw up a will and be of sound mind. There are three main conditions which must be met:
- The decision to create the will must be made voluntarily
- There must be no pressure to create the will
- It must be in writing
Validation can be achieved via ‘self-proving’; this just means ensuring that the document is signed by two witnesses who can attest to its validity. Wills can be revoked at any time; you just need to create a new will in writing including any changes.
- Trusts: Another option for managing your assets is to set up a trust. These consist of three elements: a settlor, a trustee, and a beneficiary or beneficiaries. The settlor will place their property in the hands of the trustee, until the beneficiary is of age to inherit – for example, in a case in which you wish to leave assets to a child, but they are still a minor. Once again, there are a few requirements:
- You must be 18 years of age
- You must be of sound mind
- The trust must be in writing, and detail the assets you wish to include, the name of the trustee, the name or names of the beneficiaries, and exactly what the beneficiaries should receive.
Trusts come in two main forms;revocable, which are made while the settlor is still alive, and can be revoked or altered at any time. The settlor is the trustee until their death, and ownership of any assets is transferred while they are alive, helping to avoid probate. Property and assets can also be added or removed at any time. An irrevocable trust, however, is watertight; nobody, not even the creator can make edits or retrieve assets once the trust has been set up.
Which Should I Choose?
Deciding between a trust and a will is a personal choice, but as a rule, experts often advise that you draw up a will even if you have a trust in place. Both are easy to set up, but likely, a trust offers more privacy and flexibility than a will; it is not a public record, and can be adjusted or changed without having to create a new document each time.
If you are struggling to decide, why not let us take care of the hard work? Here at Hilbrich Law Firm, we have been helping clients settle their estates and manage their affairs across the Portage area for many years. Our team of dedicated personal injury attorneys in Highland have the skills and knowledge you need to help you make an informed, educated decision which puts your mind at ease.