August is “National Make-A-Will Month,” and if you have already prepared your will, congratulations—too few Americans have taken this key first step in the estate planning process. In fact, only 33% of Americans have created their will, according to Caring.com’s 2022 Wills and Estate Planning Study.
Yet, while having a will is important—and all adults over age 18 should have this document in place—for all but a few people, creating a will is just one small part of an effective estate plan that works to keep your loved ones out of court and out of conflict. With this in mind, this series discusses exactly what having a will in place will—and will not—do for you and your loved ones in terms of estate planning.
Last week, in part one, we looked at the different things having a will in place allows you to do. Here, in part two, we detail all of the things that your will does not do, along with identifying the specific estate planning tools and strategies that you should have in place to make up for the potential blind spots that exist in an estate plan that consists of only a will.
If you have yet to create your will, or you haven’t reviewed your existing will recently, contact a Personal Family Lawyer® to get this vital first step in your estate planning handled right away.
What A Will Won’t Do
While a will is a necessary part of most estate plans, your will is typically a very small part of a comprehensive estate plan. To demonstrate, here are the things you should not expect your will to accomplish:
Like most court proceedings, probate can be time-consuming, costly, and open to the public. Moreover, during probate, there’s also the chance that one of your family members might contest your will, especially if you have disinherited someone or plan to leave significantly more money to one relative than the others. Even if those contests don’t succeed, such court fights will only increase the time, expense, and strife your family has to endure.
Bottom line: If your estate plan consists of a will alone, you are guaranteeing your family will have to go to court if you become incapacitated or when you die. Fortunately, it’s easy to ensure your loved ones can avoid probate using different types of trusts, so meet with a Personal Family Lawyer® to spare your family this unnecessary ordeal.
It’s also not a good idea to use your will to leave your pet and money for its care to a future caregiver. That’s because the person you name as beneficiary would have no legal obligation to use the funds to care for your pet. In fact, this person could legally keep all of the money and drop off your pet at a shelter.
The best way to ensure your pet gets the care it deserves following your death is by creating a pet trust. As a Personal Family Lawyer®, we will help you set up, fund, and maintain such a trust, so your furry family member will be properly cared for when you’re gone.
If you want to provide for the care of your child or another loved one with special needs, you must create a special needs trust. However, such trusts are complicated, and the laws governing them can vary greatly between states.
Given such complexities, you should always work with an experienced estate planning lawyer like us to create a special needs trust. As a Personal Family Lawyer®, we can make certain that upon your death, the individual would have the financial means they need to live a full life, without jeopardizing their access to government benefits.
And there’s always the possibility that the court could appoint a relative as a guardian that you’d never want making such critical decisions on your behalf. Or the court might select a professional guardian, putting a total stranger in control of your life, which leaves you open to potential fraud and abuse by crooked guardians.
However, using a trust, you can include provisions that appoint someone of your choosing—not the court’s—to handle your assets if you are unable to do so. When combined with a well-prepared medical power of attorney and living will, a trust can keep your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your incapacity, while ensuring your wishes regarding your medical treatment and end-of-life care are carried out exactly as you intended.
Get Professional Support With Your Estate Planning
Although creating a will may seem fairly simple, you should always consult with an experienced estate planning lawyer like us to ensure the document is properly created, executed, and maintained. And as we’ve seen here, there are many scenarios in which a will won’t be the right estate planning solution, nor would a will keep your family and assets out of court.
Meet with a Personal Family Lawyer® for a Family Wealth Planning Session, which is the first step in our Life & Legacy Planning process. During this process, we’ll walk you through an analysis of your assets, what’s most important to you, and what will happen to your loved ones when you die or if you become incapacitated. From there, we’ll work together to put in place the right combination of estate planning solutions to fit with your asset profile, family dynamics, budget, as well as your overall goals and desires.
As a Personal Family Lawyer® firm, we see estate planning as far more than simply planning for your death and passing on your “estate” and assets to your loved ones—it’s about planning for a life you love and a legacy worth leaving by the choices you make today—and this is why we call our services Life & Legacy Planning. Contact a Personal Family Lawyer® today to schedule your visit to ensure that your loved ones will be protected and provided for no matter what happens to you.