A will alone is not enough to protect your assets and loved ones. While a will outlines how you want your estate distributed, it has surprising limitations. To truly ensure your wishes are carried out and your family is cared for, it’s essential to create a comprehensive estate plan with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.
The Drawbacks of Relying Solely on a Will
Many people mistakenly believe having a valid last will and testament is sufficient to settle their estate. However, wills are subject to probate, which can lead to the following issues:
- Time-consuming process: Probate can take 9 months to 2 years in some states. This delays asset distribution.
- Costly court fees: Attorney and executor fees must be paid from the estate. This reduces inheritances.
- Lack of privacy: Wills become public records when probated. Anyone can access details about your assets.
- Potential for disputes: With no instructions for asset distribution, heirs may challenge the will. This can spark bitter court fights.
Without additional planning, your loved ones may face complications, delays, expenses, and conflicts trying to settle your estate after you’re gone.
Assets That Bypass Probate
Certain assets bypass probate since they have built-in transfer procedures:
- Joint tenancy assets are passed to the surviving owner(s) automatically.
- Assets with designated beneficiaries: transfer directly to the named beneficiaries. Includes:
- Retirement accounts
- Life insurance policies
- Payable-on-death bank accounts
- Transfer-on-death investment accounts
While these mechanisms avoid probate, they have limitations:
- Assets may not be divided however you wish.
- Minor children can’t directly inherit.
- A surviving joint owner has full control over modifying or withdrawing funds.
Trusts offer added protection.
Trusts provide immense flexibility and control over asset distribution. Common trusts include:
- Revocable living trusts: avoid probate and allow you to modify terms anytime. Can only distribute assets titled in the trust’s name.
- Irrevocable trusts protect assets from creditors and lawsuits. Can’t be changed once set up.
- Testamentary trusts are created and funded through your will.
- Special needs trusts: provide for loved ones without jeopardizing government benefits.
Trusts ensure assets are handled as directed and allow for customized distribution. For example, you can provide instructions for distributing assets over time or for specific purposes like education.
Care for Pets and Special Needs Families
Your will itself cannot provide detailed, enforceable instructions for caring for pets or family members with special needs. However, you can authorize this care through:
- Pet trusts: Set aside funds to cover your pet’s care with a designated caregiver.
- Special needs trusts provide for disabled beneficiaries without affecting eligibility for needs-based government benefits.
These specialized tools empower a trustee to use trust funds for defined purposes, benefiting your pets and loved ones.
Avoid family disputes with advance planning.
Without clear instructions, family members may make inaccurate assumptions about your wishes. This discrepancy can fuel disputes, especially if heirs believe they aren’t receiving a fair share.
You can minimize family conflicts through advanced planning strategies like:
- Creating customized trusts to outline asset distribution
- Working with a personal family lawyer who understands your goals and can guide your planning
- Keeping organized financial records lists accounts, debts, and assets, which simplifies estate administration.
Advance planning provides clarity about your intentions. This reduces room for disagreement and helps avoid bitterness between grieving family members.
Probate: What Does the Court-Supervised Process Entail?
In situations where a will is probated, assets titled solely in the deceased’s name go through a court-supervised process before being distributed to heirs. What does probate involve?
- The will is filed with the probate court and reviewed for validity.
- A notice is published to allow creditors to make claims against the estate.
- Assets are appraised and inventoried.
- Debts and taxes are paid from the estate.
- The remaining estate is distributed according to the will after court approval.
This open process can take over a year in some states. Costs like court fees and executor commissions also reduce the estate’s value.
Partner with a family law lawyer for estate planning.
A family law lawyer acts in an advisory role to manage your estate planning holistically. This attorney-client relationship provides ongoing counsel and aims to:
- Carry out your wishes sensitively and discreetly.
- Reduce taxes and expenses through strategic planning.
- Ensure financial security for spouses and dependents.
- Appoint guardians for minor or special-needs children.
- Facilitate business transition and continuity of operations
Your personal family lawyer can review your assets, goals, and family needs. They will then guide you in creating a customized estate plan using wills, trusts, and other tools. This produces an effective plan tailored for you.
Preserve your legacy with comprehensive planning.
Relying solely on a will puts your estate at risk for complications and disputes. By working with an estate planning professional to create a comprehensive plan, you can:
- Avoid probate for faster, less costly, and more private asset transfers.
- Minimize estate taxes through strategic use of trusts, gifts, and other strategies.
- Designate asset distribution with precision according to your wishes.
- Provide special instructions for pet care, special needs families, and business succession.
- Reduce family disputes through clear communication of your intentions.
Thoughtful estate planning allows you to protect your loved ones, assets, and business while ensuring your values and goals are honored for generations to come. Don’t leave it to chance; take proactive steps to preserve your legacy with confidence.