I was recently reading a Forbes article that said that at least 50% of Americans die without an estate plan in place. Let's face it, estate planning is not for the wealthy anymore. Everyone, regardless of wealth, over the age of 21, is in need of estate planning. Without a valid estate plan in place, your assets will not pass to your loved ones according to your wishes and the estate could be tied up for months, or even years, in a complicated, drawn out, and goverment intrusive probate court process.
The article reminded me of a gentleman that our office represented recently. He came in to our office a few months after his wife had passed away. Unfortunately, this gentleman and his wife never took the time to put a comprehensive estate plan in place to protect their assets and their family from a complicated estate settlement process. This client was in the middle of what would be a year and a half long probate court process just to settle the estate. It turned out to be especially difficult because his wife passed without a valid will in place. Contrary to popular belief, if you pass away without any estate plan in place, your estate does not just pass to your spouse. If you do not state otherwise, your estate will be divided equally among your spouse and living children, however, your spouse cannot receive less than 1/3 of your estate.
Although, in the end, the children were not the problem as they just gave all of the assets to their dad. However, this could have been a big problem for this client. This resulted in the client wanting to retain expreienced legal representation to ensure that the all of his legal documents were in order so his children did not have to experience what he went through when his wife died.
The morale of the story is not to assume everything will be taken care of. You must take the steps necessary to ensure your estate legal documents are in order.
If you have questions about estate planning or looking for representation on estate planning, please contact us for an initial consultation. In addition, if you aren't ready for a meeting with an estate attorney just yet, please download one of Dan's Legal Reports and books. As always, we are here to help.
Daniel A. Perry
Fidelis Law, PLLC