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.