Ask the Lawyer, Do I Need an Estate Plan?

NO PALATIAL ESTATE? YOU STILL NEED AN ESTATE PLAN

QUESTION: My wife and I have about $200,00 in savings and investments, plus we are very close to owning our $160,000 ranch house. My wife says we need an estate plan; I say we don’t own enough to need to worry about it. Who’s right?

ANSWER: Webster’s dictionary lists several definitions of “estate”: One is “a landed property, usually with a large house on it” and another is a “person’s property; the assets and liabilities left by a person at death.” Many people have the vague idea that estate plans are only needed by people who meet the first definition, and live in enormous houses. They are wrong. Estate planning is for anyone who has accumulated money and property of some kind during their lifetime. An estate plan is a good idea for just about everyone.

What does an estate plan do? It ensures that your assets end up belonging to the people you want them to belong to, with the least amount going to the state in the form of taxes, and with as little hassle as possible for the people you leave behind. It can also protect your assets – and you yourself –if you are physically or mentally incapacitated

An estate plan can include a will, trusts, powers of attorney, and long-term care provisions, among other elements.

While everyone is familiar with what a will is, not many know the advantages (and, more often, disadvantages) or relying on a will to dispose of all your property on your death, or the ways in which property can be held. And disposition of assets under a will can often be slow, and sometimes costly. Many people use a combination of a will, joint ownership, trusts or other devices to ensure a smooth transfer of assets. Consulting with a lawyer will help you decide what is best, given the size and complexity of your estate.

But an estate plan is not just about your property after your death. A good estate plan will also protect you, and your assets, before death. Part of a good estate plan is a designation of a power of attorney, that is, someone who can make financial and other decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so; and a medical power of attorney, which gives a person you trust the authority to make sure your wishes regarding medical treatment are carried out. Does the idea of being kept alive but unable to talk, or move, dependent on life support systems, give you the willies? Naming someone who understands your wishes is part of an estate plan.

To set up an estate plan, you need to talk to an attorney, but the upfront expense can save your estate a considerable amount of money and spare the people or causes you care about additional anxiety when you are incapacitated or have passed on.

The lawyers at GWINN LEGAL PLLC are experienced attorneys and are happy to answer your questions. Give us a call for a free initial telephone consultation about your legal needs. For consideration of your questions in our web column, please submit your inquiry on the “Contact Us” page of our website at www.gwinnlegal.com.

Information provided on “Ask the Lawyer” is current as of the date of publication. Laws and their interpretation are subject to change. The material provided through “Ask the Lawyer” is informational only; it should not be considered legal advice. Submitting a question to “Ask the Lawyer” does not create an attorney-client relationship between the person submitting the question and GWINN LEGAL PLLC. To view previous columns, please visit our website.

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