So Why Should I Care About Having an Estate Plan?

estate litigation

Valid question.  Why does anyone care about putting together a plan to dispose of their estate after their death?  You won’t be around so who cares?

Simply put… your family cares.  Your loved ones care.  The people you care about care.

At Business Estate and Tax Attorney P.C., we have handled hundreds of estates, some of which have had well prepared estate plans and some of which didn’t have any estate plan. We have witnessed the hardships and difficulties experienced by family members whose loved one didn’t care enough to plan ahead. We understand the emotional fatigue family and loved ones experience when they are left with no instruction on how to pay bills and dispose of remaining estate property. We have also witnessed the appreciation expressed by family members who were given a thorough estate plan that detailed how their loved one wanted to dispose of his/her estate after their passing.

Here are some of the primary reasons you should care about having an estate plan:

  • You can decide how to dispose of your property, including who will inherit your prized personal possessions, valuables and any real estate:
  • You can protect any minor children by naming a guardian for them and by allocating a portion of your estate for their physical wellbeing:
  • You can minimize taxes by planning ahead for the disposal of your estate:
  • You can reduce the likelihood of any family dissension, including potential legal fights, by identifying how your estate will be allocated.
  • You will have peace of mind knowing that you have taken care of your loved ones.

Probate and Intestacy

Don’t let the government and Uncle Sam decide how to divide up your estate. Without a valid will, you will die intestate.  That means that the state has a formula that it will apply to give away your assets and it is probably not consistent with how you would want to distribute your property.  In addition, if you die without a will, your estate will go into probate, a detailed legal process dictated by the state, that will decide how your property is handled.

Probate is a time-consuming and expensive process that can mean that an executor, appointed by the state to administer your assets, will take an administrative fee and the attorney hired by the executor will also be entitled to a fee. The probate process can largely be avoided by drafting and executing a well-crafted will that will specify how you want to have your estate handled upon your death.  The attorneys at Business Estate and Tax Attorneys P.C. in Orinda and San Francisco will help you create a written will that can use a revocable trust or other instrument to help you avoid probate and dispose of your possessions according to your wishes, not the wishes of the state.

Protecting Minor Children

Don’t run the risk that your minor children might be appointed a guardian by the probate court that might not reflect your wishes.  Use your will to name a guardian/conservator that you know will take good care of the children in the event that you are not around to provide for their care and well-being.

Appoint Your Personal Representative

Why allow the probate court to appoint a representative to handle the probate process once you are gone.  Use your written will to appoint the person you want to handle the administration of your estate including paying bills, allocating your property to your designated beneficiaries and looking out for your interests and those of your loved ones.

Sidestepping the Public Scrutiny of your Estate Allocation

Because the probate process is a public one, there will be a public record of how your estate is allocated in the probate process.  Avoid this kind of unwanted public scrutiny by allowing the experienced attorneys at Business Estate and Tax Attorneys to help you draft a will with a revocable trust to which you can transfer your assets during your life. The trust can name the beneficiaries who will be entitled to your property upon your death and it can help you sidestep a probate process that will be public and overseen by the court.

Avoiding Family Fights Following Your Passing

One of the primary reasons to have a well-crafted estate plan is to avoid the family fights that can occur if you were to die intestate (without a will).  You know how you want to allocate your assets. Further, by using a written will and trust to appoint your personal representative to distribute your estate, you are also clearly telling your family members and loved ones your wishes for the distribution. In doing so, you can help your family avoid the confusion and hard feelings that inevitably result in the probate process when the court decides who will receive your property.  Remember, your family will already be dealing with the emotion of losing you . . .  don’t heighten their grief by forcing them into a probate process that allows a court, that doesn’t know you or your family, to make decisions about your estate.

Minimizing Taxes

Using a well crafted will and trust instruments can also help your estate avoid expensive federal and state estate taxes that might substantially reduce the amount of inheritance your loved ones will actually receive.  If you have significant assets, the so-called “death tax” can be an unwelcome surprise from Uncle Sam if you haven’t taken steps prior to your passing to minimize your estate tax liabilities.  Our attorneys at Business Estate and Tax Attorneys have experience in helping our high net worth clients plan ahead to avoid unwanted inheritance and estate taxes upon death.

Charitable Gifts and Pet Care

In addition to your loved ones, you may want a portion of your estate to be given to your favorite charities upon your death.  You may even have a beloved family pet that you want to ensure is well cared for when you are no longer here.  Again, crafting a thorough estate plan can help you provide for the charities and pets you care about even if you can’t be around to help them.

Powers of Attorney and Health Care Directives

Finally, a well-crafted estate plan will include the assignment of a durable Power of Attorney to your chosen representative to handle your legal and financial matters in the event you are unable to make these decisions.  In addition, creating a medical care directive, also known as a living will, spells out how you wish to have your medical care handled in the event you are incapable of deciding for yourself.  Engaging a competent estate planning attorney, like those at Business Estate and Tax Attorneys P.C., will help you create directives that will take the pressure off both you and your family members to handle critical financial, legal and medical decisions when you are not in a position to do so.

So should you care about having an estate plan?  The list of reasons set forth above supports an affirmative response to this important question.  Business Estate and Tax Attorneys P.C. can help you prepare your estate plan to accomplish the objectives you care about and the things your family and loved ones will care about once you are no longer here.

Leighton Burrey

Attorney Leighton Burrey has a deep background in the often-intertwined fields of estate planning, tax law, business law, and litigation. He founded Business Estate & Tax Attorneys, P.C., as a full-service law firm for businesses and families that need sophisticated legal guidance in planning for the future and navigating complex challenges. The law firm provides tailored legal strategies that take into account all aspects of a business owner’s or family’s financial interests.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is for general purposes only, and it is not intended as a substitute for legal advice.