Even if you are not a celebrity or self-made millionaire, failing to plan properly will leave a huge mess for your family.
Some ways to make sure that your family is not scrambling to find assets upon your passing or spending thousands of dollars in court and attorney fees to transfer those assets to your beneficiaries are:
1. Make sure you at least have a simple Will.
The Will tells a court who you would like your Executor to be, or person that you would like to manage and oversee the probate process. If you fail to nominate someone, the court will nominate someone for you. A Will also directs the court to distribute assets to your named beneficiaries in accordance with the terms you lay out. If you do not have a Will, the state substitutes its own estate plan for yours by distributing your assets according to the state’s intestacy statutes – which may inadvertently disinherit those who you actually wanted to leave your assets to.
2. Determine if a Living Trust is good for you.
Living Trusts enable you to bypass the court probate process entirely. They enable for a smooth transition of assets from you to your beneficiaries after you are gone. Another benefit of the Living Trust is that it can provide for means to take care of you if you are ever incapacitated.
3. Title your Assets Properly.
If you have a Living Trust, it is important to “fund” the Trust with your assets. This means that you must transfer title of bank accounts, investment accounts, real property and vehicles into the name of the Trust. Otherwise, your family will have to probate the assets left in your individual name. Life Insurance and Retirement Plans should have updated beneficiary designations, which can include your Trust.
4. Keep an Updated Asset Inventory.
One of the most difficult parts of distributing a person’s assets after they are gone is figuring out exactly what that person owned before they passed away. Keeping an updated asset inventory will enable your family to effectively take over without having to scramble to figure out if or where you held investment accounts, stock, real property, etc.
While it may seem counter-intuitive, investing in setting up an estate plan now with an experienced estate planning attorney will save your estate (and your family) money in the long run. So to prevent a mess for your family, even if you are not a celebrity or self-made millionaire, take the time now to meet with an estate planning attorney and determine the best estate plan for you.