The Importance of Proper Estate Planning

will

Every day, people put off setting up their Estate Plan (otherwise known as Last Will and Testament, or simply a “will”) because, quite honestly, dying is an unpleasant thing to ponder.

However, ensuring that your close family members and loved ones will be able to successfully move on after your death will involve some participation on your part. By establishing a clear and reasonable Estate Plan, you can help your loved ones avoid petty arguments or an all out family war.

First, let’s talk about the legal side of things. If you pass away and do not have any sort of Will and Testament set up, the state you reside in will ultimately have most of the power to determine how your property will be divided. Normally, the court system will transfer most or all of your real property to your spouse or descendants, but if you don’t have any living family members, they have the freedom to give your money to your state of residence. Do you really want that to happen?

The state court can also decide to distribute your property among the following people: your parents, all or some of your living siblings, your living grandparents, children of your spouse from a previous relationship, your children’s children, or, again, to the state itself.

Passing away without a Will or Trust means that your Estate will be subject to the laws of intestate succession. Since you will have passed on, you will have no say in how your assets are divided. There are many good reasons for ensuring that this does not happen. Perhaps you have a significantly high net worth. Your surviving descendants could most likely benefit greatly from keeping that money in the family.

Your family members could also end up in a long, drawn out battle over property and entitlement – sometimes over seemingly insignificant items.

Take for example, Harold Black*. Mr. Black was a 67-year-old retiree who worked part-time at the local grocery store. By the time he contacted our office, he was overwhelmed and distraught. As he told it, Harold was lucky enough to meet a lady friend last year at the Senior Center. Harold and Lucy became fast friends and after a few months, they even got engaged. They picked out the engagement ring together, and Harold paid for it.

Several months later, Lucy passed away. It was a known fact that Lucy had cancer, but Harold had wanted to marry her regardless. Unfortunately, she became too ill and weak to go through with the wedding before her death. Some time later, Harold found himself in dire financial straits, having lost his part time job due to cut backs. He asked Lucy’s sister if she knew the whereabouts of the engagement ring. He hated to do it, but he asked for it back, explaining that it was the only thing that might pay his rent that month.

Unfortunately, Lucy’s family refused, claiming that the ring was a gift to Lucy and therefore didn’t warrant being returned to him. Although it pained him to do so, Harold hired an attorney to help him, and what ensued was a long and painful court case that could have been avoided had Lucy prepared a proper Will.

In the end, Harold did end up with the ring due to the fact that, although it was a gift, the court determined that it was a conditional gift. Since the condition of marriage wasn’t able to be fulfilled, Harold got to keep the ring, but only after a tortuous 5 months of vicious court testimony by Harold and Lucy’s sisters, leaving everyone in the situation bitter and resentful.

Another good example of the importance of having a solid Estate Plan involves a wealthy New York real estate developer worth over $40 million. He passed away and left all of his money to…no one. As his friend Paul Skurka said, “He was a very smart man, but he died like an idiot.”

Don’t follow in his footsteps. Set up your Estate Plan today by calling our office for a consultation. I promise you’ll be glad you did.

*All names and details changed to protect identities.

Photo courtesy of Carnie Lewis

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