Estate Plans—Don’t Get “Caught Dead” Without One

When people come to me seeking advice and assistance on estate planning, it’s generally because they want to make sure their loved ones avoid the expensive and time-consuming process of probate. Horror stories around this issue occur all the time. Here’s just one:

Barry, a retired surgeon with a large estate (including a house, many retirement benefits, and extensive personal property) was an older man married to a younger woman. (His widow was younger than his three adult children.) Barry hired an attorney to draft an estate plan but considerable time passed between their initial contact to completion of the final draft of the plan. Sure enough, Barry died before he could sign the plan. He left behind for his wife and children a messy legal issue that took more than three years to resolve. Court expenses, appraisal fees, and the general costs of litigation ate up a huge chunk of the estate—some of the costs borne by the
estate, some by the beneficiaries themselves. Had Barry completed the estate planning process earlier, only a fraction of these costs would have been incurred, with the rest of the estate going to his loved ones as originally intended.

An estate plan addresses specific legal questions that come up when a person passes away. What is the state of that person’s financial affairs? What properties do they own and who gets what? Should a personal guardian be appointed to care for minor children? How much tax payment is involved in transferring ownership of property? How will funeral costs be paid?

A carefully designed and comprehensive estate plan:

  • Identifies family members or others who will receive your property after your death.
  • Makes sure property is transferred to designated beneficiaries with as few legal obstacles as possible.
  • Lessens the tax burden passed on to your survivors.
  • Employs living trusts and other legal mechanisms to avoid the time and cost associated with probate.
  • Specifies the types of life-prolonging medical care you want to receive should you become incapacitated.
  • Details the funeral arrangements you prefer and how the expenses will be paid.

A word of caution: Plenty of estate planning services are available online and some people choose this option to avoid paying legal fees. The problem is, without expert advice, you don’t always know what you need or what you’ll get with these services. They’re not customized to address an individual’s specific needs.

Based on my own experience as an attorney advising and handling estate planning issues, believe me—it’s extremely important to attend to these matters while you still can. No one wants to leave a mess behind, creating a substantial burden for their loved ones. A well-executed estate plan avoids all that and provides invaluable peace of mind for you and your loved ones.

Are you in need of legal counseling? The Law Offices of Ian S. Topf offer free consultation in a variety of issues, ranging from estate planning, bankruptcy, and family law to traffic violations, and landlord/tenant disputes.

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