Summary: Before you file your estate documents away, you should check for four items commonly left off of wills: updated guardian designations, digital assets, pet provisions, and alternative beneficiaries. Take the time now to ensure that your Last Will and Testament is carefully drafted and that it reflects your wishes.
A Last Will and Testament is a legal document in which a person provides instructions for the distribution of his or her assets, upon death. It ensures that your property goes to the individuals that you how, how you want, and when. Having a will in place can provide peace of mind that your assets and your loved ones are protected. But, before you file your estate planning documents away, you may want to check for these four items that are commonly, mistakenly left off of wills.
Updated Guardian Designations. A guardian is an individual selected to care for a person’s child or children, in the event that the parent dies. When a parent dies or is incapacitated, the child’s other biological parent is typically first in line for custody. However, if both parents are unavailable, this becomes a separate issue. It is important, especially for single parents or parents who have minor children, for his or her will to reflect their current familial status (how many children) and the up-to-date contact information for the designated guardian of those children. Guardians need to be notified immediately to ensure that the children are taken care of properly. If the guardian cannot be located, the children could be temporarily placed in state custody.
Digital Assets. In the current digital landscape, so much of what we do is online or on our computers. Websites, domain names, and online accounts can have economic value. Additionally, things like computer files, digital movies or audio content, social media profiles, and telecommunication devices might be items you would like to pass along to friends or family members. Those drafting a will should consider including their digital assets, along with language that gives executors “all the rights, powers and privileged that I have with respect to my digital assets.” The estate plan should also include the online account numbers and passwords – after all, what is the point of passing along digital assets if your beneficiary cannot access them? For more on estate planning and social media accounts, you can read our blog Protecting Digital Assets: Facebook’s Legacy Contact.
Pets. Under Georgia law, pets are considered property (and not people) so pet owners cannot leave assets directly to their animals. But what they can do is to identify a caregiver for their pet(s) and leave that caregiver with instructions and funds for the care of their pets. However, pet owners should be aware that pet caregivers are not legally obligated to accept or maintain your animals. Also, any money left in the will for the caregiver is considered a gift, and that person would receive the funds regardless of whether he or she kept the pet. Alternatively, if a person does not make pet provisions in their will, the animal could end up at a shelter. For more on pets and estate planning, read our blog Can I Include My Pets In My Estate Plan?.
Alternative Beneficiaries. Most wills and other estate planning documents include a primary beneficiary, but it can be a big mistake not include alternative or backup beneficiaries. This is especially true if the primary beneficiary dies before the testator (the person who drafted the will), if the beneficiary is no longer capable of managing assets, or if the beneficiary is a minor. Having an alternative beneficiary in place can alleviate these issues. Also, in addition to naming a primary and alternative beneficiary in your will, it is also a good idea to revisit those beneficiary designations to make sure they are up to date and meet your current goals.
Typically, people decide to draft their wills after a major life event (ex: marriage, children, divorce, etc.) and then the documents are filed safely away. They may not look at the estate plans again in their lifetime. However, when a testator dies, it is too late to consider more appropriate planning opportunities or to correct any errors. That is why it is important to take the time now to ensure that your Last Will and Testament is carefully drafted and reflects your wishes. If you would like to set up an estate planning or probate consultation, contact Atlanta estate planning and probate law firm Siedentopf Law at (404) 736-6066 or visit our website EstateLawAtlanta.com.
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