If you want to have any say over your wealth after you pass away, you need an estate plan. If you don’t, then the State of Georgia is going to decide what to do with your legacy for you.
The best approach to estate planning is personal. No online form or template can truly capture or translate your goals into a legal document like a lawyer can do. Creating a trust, will, or other estate planning document should be the farthest thing from just filling in the blanks. It’s too late if you lack legal capacity or have died to fix something that should have been done right from the beginning. Your estate attorney should sit down with you and understand your vision for your family’s future.
Nothing is worse than having your assets get tied up or whittled away in disputes after you’re gone. Unfortunately, this can happen in the probate process if you have no estate plan in place. You’re never too young to start thinking about a plan when you have an estate to protect.
When Do You Need an Estate Planning Lawyer?
Estate planning is simply putting down in writing how you’d like your affairs to be handled if and when you ever become unable to make those decisions for yourself – either because your health has declined or you’ve passed away. Nobody likes to think about getting to that point, but actually planning for the possibility will make all the difference when it happens.
You should have a legally enforceable estate plan whether you have children or not, whether you’re married or not, or whether your assets are few or many. It can save your estate money and much conflict.
Wills and Testamentary Trusts
One of the first steps in a strong estate plan is creating a will, possibly with a testamentary trust. These critical documents – and any modifications to them – must be properly drafted and executed to be legally binding.
Your will controls how your probate estate will get distributed. “Probate” includes all the property you own at the time of your death that is not otherwise claimed by contract or operation of law. When you create a will, you decide what to do with this property, which could include anything of value, such as:
- Furniture and home furnishings
- Possessions like clothing and jewelry
- Cars or real estate titled under your name
- Bank accounts held in your name with no transfer-on-death designated
- Stocks and bonds held in accounts under your name
If you pass away without a will, your estate is known as intestate. Essentially, your “will” becomes whatever state law says, to be distributed among your heirs.
Why Should You Have a Will?
Without a will:
With a will:
A testamentary trust is a trust that is included in a last will and testament. Unlike living trusts, testamentary trusts become active only after the probate process has been completed after your death. These trusts help manage the property you set aside for your beneficiaries according to your wishes.
You can create a testamentary trust to help manage your property for young children, relatives with disabilities, or anyone else who may inherit valuable assets.
You should also update your will anytime you have a major life change, whether it’s a marriage, a divorce, a move, the birth or adoption of a child, or a significant rise or fall in wealth.
An experienced estate planning attorney can help you create or modify a will to do so in a way that’s executed properly and legally enforceable. That way, your will can withstand challenges by heirs or beneficiaries.
Financial Powers of Attorney
A financial power of attorney in Georgia allows you to designate a person (called an agent) to legally take care of your property and finances while you are living, if you ever become incapacitated and cannot do so yourself.
You may need a financial power of attorney for the following situations:
- There’s an unexpected crisis that makes you unable to manage your finances
- You’re entering surgery and may be unable to make decisions
- Your health is declining and you’re worried you may not be able to handle your finances
You can set a financial power of attorney to go into effect at a specific date or after a certain event occurs. When you work with an attorney to personalize your financial power of attorney, you can also specify limits to what your agent can and can’t do on your behalf.
Georgia Advanced Healthcare Directives
If you ever become incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself, your loved ones may not know or agree on what your wishes would be. An advanced healthcare directive is essentially a durable power of attorney for healthcare.
- Do you have any do-not-resuscitate (DNR) requests?
- When should CPR be used (or not used) on you in an emergency?
- Would you rather go to a hospital and be put on a breathing tube for lifesaving care, or stay at home and be made comfortable?
- Do you have any physician orders for life-sustaining treatment? (POLST)
A knowledgeable lawyer can help you fully understand potential treatment choices and their consequences. By making your wishes clear, you save your family members the anguish of having to decide what you would’ve wanted in your place.
The sooner you get started on your estate plan, the better protected your future will be. Contact us or call 770-831-7910 now to talk to experienced estate planning attorney Joseph Cheeley. Our talented team can help you plan your future to meet your needs and goals.