If you die without a valid will, your state may keep more of your assets than if you have a will. Your family won’t have any control and the court will follow the laws of your state regarding how your assets are distributed. That’s probably not what you want to happen, according to the article “People Are Dying Sooner So Protect Your Money Now” from Investor’s Business Daily.
Life expectancy in the United States is falling. Therefore, the need for an estate plan, including a will, is rising. In 2021, American life expectancy fell to 76.6 years, compared to 76.99 years in 2020 and down from 78.86 years in 2019. Despite this trend, fewer than half of Americans have a will.
An estate planning attorney can translate your wishes into your will and estate plan. Here are the basics that you need to know to protect your family and your money.
Beneficiary designations override a will. Whoever is listed as a beneficiary on an investment, retirement, or bank account will get your assets after you die. If you list someone different in your will, make sure that your beneficiary designation is the same. Don’t neglect pension or retirement accounts that were opened decades ago.
If you own property in more than one state, your estate plan needs to address multi-state ownership, federal and state taxes and plan for the likelihood of having to go through probate in each state.
A will is just the beginning of an estate plan. Estate planning involves more than death—you also need to plan for incapacity. A durable power of attorney allows someone of your choosing to legally manage finances, if you become incapacitated because of illness or an accident. A health care proxy empowers someone else to make medical choices, if you can’t communicate your wishes. A living will also puts your health care decisions in writing.
If you have a pet you want to have cared for after you have passed, you can do that with a pet trust. Pets are considered property and cannot inherit assets, but a pet trust is used to name a caretaker and a trustee.
The more information you can prepare in advance, the easier it will be for your family to handle your estate. Create an inventory of your accounts, including the name of the institution or company, account numbers and your usernames and passwords. Don’t include this information in your will, which becomes a public document once it’s filed in court. This list needs to include everything it takes to run your household (utilities and landscaper), medical care (physician, pharmacist, and any specialists), and finances (financial advisor, mortgage company and banking).
Make a list of key people, including your executor and backup executor. Create a list of people who you want to be notified, from heirs and family members to work and community groups.
The planning you do now will lessen the stress on your loved ones.
Reference: Investor’s Business Daily (May 2, 2022) “People Are Dying Sooner So Protect Your Money Now”
Suggested Key Terms: Will, Estate Planning Attorney, Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, Executor, Incapacity, Pet Trust, Inventory, Living Will