With the recent pandemic, there is so much to be thankful for, including our country's independence. The United States of America is not a perfect nation and we have suffered our fair share of issues over the past few years. However, Americans are free to express their own thoughts and views without governmental suppression, which is exactly what our forefathers fought so hard for.
While the rest of the nation celebrates its independence on July 4th, you can rest assured that you too can declare independence for your family -- from court interference! Life can be unpredictable as we have all experienced in the first six months of 2020. Whether it is a financial issue, the birth or adoption of a child, sickness or incapacity, it is important to be prepared with proper estate planning. In fact, failure to put together a comprehensive estate plan can leave you and your loved ones at the mercy of the court when it comes to distributing assets or caring for a minor or sick family member.
Estate Planning Basics
Simply put, estate planning addresses how to manage your property in the event of your death or incapacity. Some estate planning tools you may have heard of include last will and testaments, living wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and healthcare directives. While each of these are individual documents, an estate plan is a series of documents designed to address a multitude of circumstances and issues. Estate planning is a great method not only to plan your family's financial security, but to use tools to keep your family's personal “business” outside of the courtroom.
When someone passes away without a will it is referred to as being intestate. A person who dies intestate will have his or her assets distributed according to the state's intestacy rules (in Illinois that is the Descent and Distribution Statute). Probate is the legal mechanism by which your assets are distributed upon your death if you die intestate (i.e., without a will). The probate process takes time, costs money, and can be a hassle and burden for the family you left behind. One important estate planning tool that will help avoid a drawn out legal process includes a fully funded trust with up-to-date beneficiary designations. (For more information on trust funding, see my Trust Funding blog from June 11, 2020 on our website ( https://www.doconnorlawoffices.com/trust-funding?fbclid=IwAR3FfwZXiTbmLvhVvZQAFqQCiyJCHPniNOvpVQMp2Suae_NG6GMQl6KH0s8).) By having a fully funded trust and/or up-to-date beneficiary designations when you die, there are no assets in your estate, and therefore no need for probate.
But death is not the only time a court may become involved in your and your family's personal lives; the court may also intervene in the event you become incapacitated. If this situation occurs, the court may appoint a guardian or conservator to handle your personal and financial matters, essentially pushing out your loved ones and stripping their ability to help you or to make important decisions on your behalf. There are several estate planning tools that can help you establish who you want to be in charge should you become incapacitated. These include using a health care power of attorney, a fully funded trust, as well as a financial or property power of attorney, to appoint and give instructions to those you trust to make these difficult decisions for you when you need it most.
Protecting Your Loved Ones
Another important benefit of a solid estate plan is protecting those who are most precious to you -- your minor children. It is important to understand that simply naming guardians in your will is not enough in and of itself. While a will does ensure your children will be properly cared for in the long-term, often there are significant lapses of time from when the need arises to care for your children and when your wishes are actually carried out. Making sure your estate plan accounts for this gap is vital in preventing someone you don't want to raise your children from take control of their lives and inheritance.
Declare Your Family's Independence
There are many moving parts to a concise estate plan that must be considered in order to properly protect yourself and your loved ones. An estate planning attorney can explain your options under applicable law and craft a plan that best suits your family's needs. There is no need to wait and leave your family's future to chance. Contact us today so we can get you on the road to independence!
Have a safe and happy holiday weekend!