An estate plan is crucial to managing your asset-base upon death the way you desire… so the courts do not do it for you.

What is an Estate Plan?

An estate plan is a series of legal documents that outline the fate of your belongings in the event of death or incapacitation. Establishing a complete estate plan ensures that your final wishes are followed properly. In the event you become incapacitated, it allows you to appoint a trust individual to make important decisions on your behalf.

Everyone can benefit from an estate plan; even if you don't own a home. Your estate essentially refers to any property (vehicles, home, etc.) or assets (finances, investments, jewelry, etc.) you may have. To set up an estate plan, you need three key documents: a will, a medical power of attorney, and a financial power of attorney.

What you need to start your Estate Plan

While a will, medical power of attorney, and financial power of attorney each have their own specific functions and benefits, a proper estate plan includes all documents.

Last Will & Testament

A will, called a last will and testament, ensures your assets and affairs are handled exactly how you want them after your death. A will lays out memorial requests, designates assets to beneficiaries, and appoints a fiduciary (personal representative). It states how assets will be handled if you pass away and also handles the remainder, or residuary, of the estate. Anything that is not specifically given falls under the residuary of the estate.

A will is especially critical if you have children under age 18. It allows you to appoint a guardian over them or over any assets left to them. Without this document, the court will appoint a guardian. To ensure your children are left in the hands of someone you trust, it is crucial to draft a will.

Financial & Medical Powers of Attorney

Unlike a will, which only goes into effect after an individual has passed, powers of attorney go into effect in the event you are still alive but unable to handle your own affairs (incapacitated). Powers of Attorney (POA) are documents that allow another individual to make decisions for you that you would otherwise make yourself. This could look like a variety of things, from handling mortgage payments to making medical decisions. Establishing this document will ensure your life decisions are in the hands of someone you trust.

There are different types of powers of attorney that are used in different circumstances. Two specific types are needed to complete your estate plan: medical and financial. A medical power of attorney grants an appointed individual the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf. A financial power of attorney allows the individual you choose to make strictly financial decisions. You could appoint the same person for both documents, or different people.

A will, along with financial and medical powers of attorney are crucial to protect yourself and your assets in the event you pass away or become incapacitated. Together, these documents will also prevent your loved ones from a lengthy legal process known as probate.

Avoiding Probate

A proper estate plan also helps you avoid probate. Probate is the court settlement of an estate after an individual has passed. Many people attempt to avoid probate as it is lengthy and complex in nature. There are two distinct types of probate: testate and intestate. While both aren't preferable, intestate is particularly avoided.

  • Testate probate takes place when an individual dies with a will but needs letters testamentary (a court issued document) to transfer certain assets or property. Given that a will was present, it is not always required that a probate be filed. In certain cases, individuals can choose to file. Testate probate can help prevent any disputes over a will.
  • Intestate probate occurs when an individual dies without a will. Intestate probate can result in court procedures that last anywhere from nine months to three years. Additionally, it is five to ten times more expensive than an estate plan. Thankfully, a proper estate plan will help you avoid intestate probate.

It's crucial to ensure your assets and property are handled exactly how you want after you pass away. Creating an estate plan saves your family time and money from long court procedures and difficult decisions. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you create a legally sound estate plan that will result in a seamless transition of assets, providing you and your loved ones a peace of mind. 

How We Can Help

Looking for an estate planning attorney in Monroe? Baxter Legal Services can aid you in creating a plan for an effortless transition of assets to your designated beneficiaries. We will help you decide who will inherit your assets, who will handle your financial affairs if you are incapacitated, and who you want to make medical decisions for you if unable to make them yourself. Creating a sound estate plan is a demonstration of a responsible and thoughtful legacy that will be appreciated by your loved ones. Contact us today to start your estate plan and learn more about our estate planning services.

Interested in other topics on estate planning? Check out our blog, where we post information on lifetime giftsestate planning for a second marriage, divorce, and more

FAQ's

What happens if I die without a will?

Dying without a will leads to a long and complex process known as intestate probate. A will allows you to designate assets to beneficiaries, so the absence of one places this responsibility on the court. This process can last anywhere from nine months to three years, which is why it's so crucial to draft a will. Hiring an attorney can speed up the process of drafting and authenticating a will.

Do I need an estate plan if I don't have many assets?

Everyone can benefit from an estate plan, whether you're a homeowner or not. Whether you have many assets or not, it's beneficial to consult an estate planning attorney. Baxter Legal Services is happy to consult with you to find the best course of action for protecting your assets.

Should I consult an estate planning attorney?

Consulting an experienced estate planning attorney ensures all documents are authenticated. Furthermore, estate planning attorneys understand the unique laws and regulations in your specific area, which is important to adhere to when drafting estate planning documents.

How often should I update my estate plan?

The standard rule is that your estate plan should be reviewed every three to five years, or after a significant life event has occurred. However, your attorney can provide recommendations based on your specific situation. Learn more here.