FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2012-11-02
It is a fact that planning for one’s demise is not a popular pastime for most people nationwide. However, if you fail to prepare your estate plan properly, it can bring serious hardships on your loved ones. Unfortunately, estate planning is an area of law where there is widespread confusion among the public. As you are considering your estate plan, it is important to be aware of some of the most common myths.
Estate Planning Is Just For the Rich
Many individuals think that estate planning is not needed if the estate is not big enough to be subject to estate taxes (i.e. in the millions of dollars). However, estate planning is about much more than that. Estate planning encompasses ensuring that your property goes to whomever you wish, ensuring that your finances are taken care of if you become incapacitated and making sure that your decisions about end-of-life care are obeyed. In other words, estate planning is for everyone.
I Don’t Need an Estate Plan
If you die without a will or trust, the laws of your home state, not you, will determine who receives your assets. Each state has its own “default” way of distributing property of its citizens who die without a will. In many states, your surviving spouse will receive everything. However, in others, your spouse may have to share with your children, or parents.
Dying without a will or trust is not an option, in most cases, if you want your assets to go to organizations, friends or other persons outside of your immediate family. Despite your wishes to the contrary during life, dying without a will can leave certain types of people empty handed and without support. For example, if you are unmarried and die without a will, your property will generally not go to your live-in partner. The same is often true of stepchildren.
I Don’t Need an Attorney
It is true that there are many do-it-yourself kits and software products on the market that promise quick and easy estate planning documents. However, the legal issues surrounding estate planning are complicated. These do-it-yourself products can cover some common issues in estate planning, but they often take a “one size fits all” approach to estate planning. As a result, they can overlook or misinterpret an issue of law that governs your individual situation.
Unfortunately, this often results in thousands of dollars in legal fees and court costs (and forcing your heirs to go through the ordeal of litigation) to fix the problem. It is therefore advantageous at least to have an experienced attorney look over any do-it-yourself documents to make sure that they are legally sound and will fit your wishes.
As the law surrounding estate planning is rife with exceptions and pitfalls, it is best not to leave the fate of your estate to chance. An experienced estate planning attorney can consider your individual situation and tailor an effective estate plan that will ensure that your final wishes are carried out.