There are some estate planning questions that many of us would like answered. These include how to keep heirs from going through probate, whether you need an estate planning attorney or can you just use an online form and how to select an executor.
Next Avenue’s recent article, “Probate, Wills, Executors: Your Estate Planning Questions Answered,” addresses each of these questions.
Probate. Probate is the legal process for transferring your assets to your heirs. It’s governed by the law in the state where you were a resident at the time of death. Each state has its own cutoffs for the size of an estate that can be transferred without going through probate. In some states, the limit is a few thousand dollars, but in some it’s $200,000. In addition, probate is a public notice of death. This allows creditors to file claims against an estate. After they are paid, the rest of the estate goes to the beneficiaries. You may want to avoid the lengthy process, the expenses and fees and perhaps even the publicity. It is important to remember that probate proceedings are open to the public.
The need for an attorney. You should hire an experienced estate planning attorney to draft your will. Many Americans in their 50s and 60s don’t have one and it becomes a real problem for their heirs! A recent Caring.com survey found that 40% of boomers don’t have a will. The more complicated your instructions for passing your assets, the more important it is to use a lawyer. Complexities, nuances, and intricate state probate and tax laws, often result in expensive errors in self-drafted documents. Your tax software may have guaranteed the results, but your heirs will be on their own if your do-it-yourself will is flawed or, something that happens very often, not recognized by the court as legal. Finally, make certain your heirs know where your will is kept and keep it up-to-date.
Choosing an executor. An executor is the individual with the legal responsibility to carry out the specifics of your estate, to transfer assets and to pay any debts or liabilities. When you select an executor, find a person who’s trustworthy and capable of carrying out your wishes. It should be the type of person who knows when to ask for help. Name the executor in your will, so that the court doesn’t appoint someone.
Instead of automatically choosing a family member as executor, you can also hire a professional like a bank or a trust company.
Reference: Next Avenue (April 7, 2017) “Probate, Wills, Executors: Your Estate Planning Questions Answered”