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Friday, September 2, 2016

Simple Estate Planning You Can Do Yourself

Effective estate planning is more about advice and counsel than completing forms.  Downloading a fillable document seems like a very easy and low cost way to obtain a will, trust, durable power of attorney, or other estate planning document.  However, keep in mind that estate planning without an attorney’s counsel may end up hurting your family at the very time you need your estate plan to work.  So while we caution against do-it-yourself estate planning, there are definitely steps you can take by yourself.   One of the simplest and most important things that you should do, no matter your age or marital status, is to verify that assets and beneficiaries are properly titled, and that all beneficiaries are identified. 

Let’s consider the following all-too-common scenarios, based on recent calls to our office.

Sam Jones is a 75-year old man, who has been married to Hazel for over 30 years.  Tragically, Sam dies suddenly.   Hazel eventually contacts their insurance company and is startled to learn that the beneficiary on one of Sam’s policies is his sister, designated before he was married.  Although Sam and Hazel were married for many years, the primary beneficiary was never changed.  Review all life insurance and retirement plan beneficiaries to ensure they are current.

Sadly, after a long illness Mama Maggie loses her daughter Melissa, a 45-year old divorced woman, with no children.  Maggie later learns of a life insurance policy on Melissa’s life, issued years ago by a former employer.  The policy shows no named beneficiary, so therefore funds cannot be released without a judge’s order from the probate court.  This means probate administration is required.  Have you collected life insurance policies, IRAs and 401(k)s over the years?  Make sure they all have beneficiaries and contingent beneficiaries designated.

Nadine Rogers’ husband passes away.  All of the couple’s savings and checking accounts were owned jointly.  While sorting through her late husband’s papers, Nadine sees a statement from an old savings account, in only her husband’s name.  She is surprised to find out that their bank will not allow her access to the money because Nadine is not named as an owner.  As with Mama Maggie, money will only be released with a judge’s order from the probate court following probate administration.  Her options are to hire an attorney to start a probate proceeding, or allow the money to eventually be claimed by the state.  All cash accounts should either have a joint owner, or be designated P.O.D. (payable on death) to a named beneficiary.

There are several other relatively easy things you can do, with the help of an attorney, which can assure your family that your real estate and business property will transfer smoothly, efficiently, and without the need for probate administration following your demise.  These include life estate deeds for your residence and buy/sell agreements for stock and other business interests.



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