Estate Planning: The Key Ingredient
Wills are the central (and one of the most complex) parts of
estate planning

If you’ve been keeping up with current events lately, you may have noticed that legal battles seem to take
up much of the media’s focus. Since the O.J. Simpson trial, media outlets have become frenzied at the
thought of a good legal battle. Case in point: Michael Jackson. There’s even a cable station devoted
solely to court proceedings.

One of the most recent courtroom dramas to receive media attention was that of Terri Schiavo. No one
likes being involved in long, drawn-out legal battles, and especially not ones that garner major media
attention. That’s why there’s an underlying emphasis to the Schiavo case: always plan your estate.

Estates may seem like a lot of effort, but when you consult with a trusted financial professional and an
estate planning attorney, they can take a lot of the stress, (and potential mistakes), out of the planning
process. Estate planning is a complex endeavor, and one of the key ingredients to a successful estate
plan is a will.

A will is the central part of your plan. Your will simply spells-out in legal terms,
who will receive various parts of your estate, including savings, homes, and
other assets. Your will can also be used to decide who will be guardians of
your children if you pass away while they are still minors. By specifically laying
out each asset and what person or charity it will be distributed to, you make
your wishes crystal clear. This usually reduces much of the court and the
government involvement in your estate.   

Every will has several basic components. One of the first, and most important
components, is picking someone to administer the will. Will administrators go
by many titles which all essentially mean the same thing. (Executor,
administrator, and personal representative are the most common names used.)

Your administrator has a large and important task in carrying out your wishes
and handling the legal and financial aspects of your estate. Administrators
must take inventory of your estate, make sure all remaining financial obligations
have been met, and they must physically distribute the estate’s contents as
spelled out in the will. This job is a challenging and time-consuming task, and
it goes without saying that you should choose someone with some level of
financial experience whom you trust.

A will is also the tool used when deciding who should become the guardian of
your children should you pass away while they’re still minors. Usually if you leave
property to the children, you must also appoint a guardian for that property.

Finally, you must decide who will get what. While it’s not always pleasant to
spell-out in detail which relatives or friends will get your property, recent events
have deemed this all-too-necessary. A few potentially uncomfortable
conversations now may save for a long legal struggle in the future.

One interesting part of the will process is highlighted by state laws. In many
states, a will must leave a certain percentage of the estate to the spouse. Thus, if for some reason you
write your will leaving everything to your children or grandchildren, your spouse can challenge it and
receive his or her percentage guaranteed by law.

No one likes talking about their own demise, but as we all know, it’s going to happen someday. So why
not be financially and legally prepared for it? By taking the time to properly plan your estate, and more
specifically, your will, you help reduce the chances of long legal struggles that can potentially drag on for
years. In the process, it isn’t specific heirs who get lost in the legal shuffle, it’s your life’s work. Wills are
complex and have various rules that aren’t contained within this article, that’s why seeking professional
help is so necessary. Estate planning may be arduous at times, but it helps ensure that you’ll be
remembered for who you were in life, not “who gets what” in death.
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