Don’t Wait to Plan Your Estate: Helpful End-of-the-Year Tips
It is never easy to think about what will happen to your children, your home or your money when you get sick or pass away. But if you don’t plan ahead when it comes to your estate, it could cost your family or your beneficiaries even more — not just from hurt feelings, but from a lengthy and expensive court battle. The American Bar Association Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law offers several tips on the best way for all Americans to protect themselves and those who stand to benefit from their estate.
“More than 120 million Americans do not have up-to-date wills,” said Tina Portuondo, chair of the ABA Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law. “Regardless of your age or financial circumstances, it is in your best interest to have an estate plan in place to dictate how your assets will be distributed upon your death or used to care for you in case of illness or disability.”
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when creating an estate plan:
- Choose the plan that is appropriate for your situation. Many Americans turn to “do-it-yourself” methods to create their own wills with the intention of saving money and time. But in most cases, it is critical to hire an attorney to handle these matters. When wills are not properly prepared, beneficiaries can end up in court to decide on issues such as the ownership of property when the intentions of the deceased are not properly put in writing.
- Become familiar with estate planning language. An enforceable will requires specific language that properly and clearly states what is to occur. Lawyers know the importance of accurate wording when they draft documents on a person’s behalf.
- Beware of underestimating the complexity of your estate. Lawyers advise their clients on unexpected issues that occur in seemingly easy cases. For example, a woman created a “do-it-yourself” estate plan that she believed divided the assets equally between her two children. Prior to her death, however, she depleted the monetary assets left to one of them while the other was given her home. When she died, the children entered into a costly court case over whether or not the child who was left less had a right to a portion of the house. Trained lawyers anticipate these issues. If you are planning for someone with special needs or for a blended family, you need expert advice.
- Be mindful of the pitfalls of “do-it-yourself” services. In limited situations, a “do-it-yourself” estate plan may be sufficient, especially for a single person who has relatively modest assets in his or her name and wishes to leave everything to one relative. For those who choose to use an alternative such as an online service, be aware that a court may not rule on whether the document is legally binding until after the person’s death.
The ABA Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law urges people to plan ahead. The section has created a website, www.estateplanhelp.org, to guide you now on how to protect yourself, your family and your beneficiaries for the future.