Isn’t it odd that many people plan their funerals, but many of those same people have not planned their estates? The majority of Americans do not even have a will in place. At McCart & Tesmer, P.A., we have an active estate planning practice and have experienced just about every scenario out there. Not only have we assisted many clients in developing their estate plans, but we have also been involved in many cases when our client’s loved one has died, leaving an inadequate estate plan or no plan at all. Folks have many reasons why they might not plan accordingly. Below you’ll find a sampling of the most common ones we’ve heard to help you navigate this critical time in your life.
“My children will do the right thing.”
Fortunately, most parents are correct when they make that statement. However, after a parent dies, we have seen many cases where greed takes over, and the children do things the parent could never imagine. It can get very ugly. In fact, in one case, two sons fought over their father’s Cleveland Browns jacket. That’s right, an entire lawsuit was started over a jacket!
“My estate will not have to pay estate taxes.”
In most cases, this statement is true, especially in 2021, where heirs do not have to pay a federal estate tax on estates less than $11.7 million. Many assets which common sense tells us should not be included in our estates are added according to Tax law. For example, the death benefits paid to your heirs at your death on life insurance policies you own are typically added to your taxable estate. You should review your situation with an attorney experienced in estate planning to ensure your assets are adequately protected. In addition, there are many non-tax reasons to plan.
“My spouse will inherit everything from me.”
This statement is true in many cases, but what if you or your spouse has children from a prior marriage or relationship? What if you and your spouse die simultaneously? What if your spouse remarries after your death? What if your minor child decides to drop out of school? A properly drafted estate plan addresses these and other “what if’s” so that there is no question about what goes where when the time comes.
“I told everyone what I want.”
Sadly, memories fade, and often people hear what they want to hear. In the suit over the Cleveland Browns jacket mentioned above, each son testified, under oath, that his father told him that he wanted him to have the jacket. Whether one of the sons is lying or just doesn’t remember correctly doesn’t matter. If you want to ensure that your property goes where you decide, the only way to do so is through a properly drafted and executed will or trust.
“It is too complicated.”
Is a great statement as to why you should hire the pros to handle it! You do not need to have any particular legal skill or knowledge to have an effective estate plan. Generally, all you need to do is tell your attorney (who should be experienced in estate planning matters) what goals you want your estate plan to accomplish, and let the attorney draft your documents accordingly.
“I already have a will.”
This statement raises two concerns. First, if you already have a will, you should review it at least annually with your attorney’s help to ensure that it still expresses your wishes and makes any necessary changes. That said, in many cases, we review our client’s will and suggest no changes. Second, a complete estate plan has much more than a will. Although a properly drafted will is the cornerstone of any estate plan, your plan also should have powers of attorney so that you can designate who will handle your business or financial affairs and who will make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated. Many estate plans also include trusts established for any number of purposes, such as saving taxes or minimizing probate. So even if you have a will already, you likely need to #1 review it ASAP and #2 add in the other necessary portions for the best success.
“I will do it later” or “I’m too busy.”
We agree you don’t want to rush these things to complete an estate plan. The plan should be well thought out and done at a reasonable pace. However, you do not want to wait too long. We don’t know when or how we will die, so waiting is very risky. In another example, if you lose your ability to understand the nature and effect of your estate planning documents because of something like Alzheimer’s or an automobile accident, you will be prohibited from signing them. Therefore, you will not be able to execute an estate plan. It’s not worth the risk to wait, trust us.
“I don’t want to think about it.”
As we discussed in our blog last month, death is inevitable. It’s not if, but when you die and frequently, death is unexpected. Even if it’s morbid and folks don’t like to talk about it, many of our clients express their sense of relief when they execute a plan and satisfaction that they do not have to worry about not having a plan anymore.
“It is too expensive.”
It is no secret that lawyers are expensive. However, our fees for completing an estate plan are probably less than you might think. In addition, think about how much money your heirs could save in taxes, legal fees, and other costs if you have a properly drafted estate plan. Think about how much those sons who fought over the Cleveland Browns jacket paid in legal fees. Had their father prepared an estate plan, they could have avoided an expensive, stressful, and petty lawsuit.
The moral of the story is that an estate plan should be in place before you pass away to provide the most clarity for those who will survive you. There are too many “what if’s” and unknowns to leave anything unsaid. Yes, it does take some time and a little bit of money, but the peace of mind those things buy is priceless. So when you’re ready, let the professionals at McCart & Tesmer help you get your Estate Plan in place and take one “To-Do” off your plate so you can get back to living!