Estate Planning Priorities for a Fresh Start
One of the advantages of the New Year is that it provides us all with a fresh start. An opportunity to set new goals, projects, and priorities. If you’ve been thinking about creating an estate plan, or if you’re interested in learning how to best protect your loved ones and legacy, now is the time to get started.
STEP ONE: Review Your Family Situation
The first step in creating an estate plan is to review your family situation. Consider who you would like to include in your plan (spouse, children, family members, friends, pets) and perhaps who you would like to exclude from that plan (former spouses, former in-laws, estranged family members). Under Georgia law, pets are considered property – and not people – so pet owners cannot leave assets directly to their furry friends. Instead, they can ask someone to be the caregiver of their pet and then either leave money to that caregiver in their will or create a pet trust.
Typically, people will create an estate plan following a major life event such as marriage, divorce, births, or deaths of loved ones. But the New Year is also an opportune time to begin working on your plan. It is important that your estate plan reflects your current family situation and aligns with your current financial goals so that your loved ones will be protected and your wishes will be honored as you intended.
STEP TWO: Make a Best-Case-Scenario Plan for a Worst-Case-Scenario
It can be uncomfortable to think about the death or incapacity of yourself or your loved ones. But having a plan in place means that you and your family will be protected, just in case the worst happens. The second step in creating a new estate plan is to consider what you would want to happen in an emergency or other crisis. What would happen to your children? Who would manage your finances and other assets?
A guardian is a person appointed in a will or other estate planning document to take care of a minor child. The guardian is in charge of the child’s daily needs, such as housing, nutrition, and medical care. If you are a parent with young children, nominating a guardian is one of the most important choices you can make. Make sure the judge knows who you’d want to take care of your children – don’t assume the court will appoint the best person to raise them.
A financial power of attorney is someone authorized to act on another’s behalf in financial, real estate, and legal matters. The person drafting the power of attorney documents can choose when this authority goes into effect. For example, it could be under special circumstances like sickness or incapacity or at a specific, designated date in the future. Naming a power of attorney doesn’t mean that someone is giving up their financial or legal rights – it just authorizes another person to help make decisions or perform certain tasks. Under Georgia law, spouses and children do not have automatic power of attorney; they still need to have the appropriate paperwork in place for that authority to be legal.
An executor is the person responsible for carrying out the instructions of a will. Whereas a power of attorney can help with financial decisions during a person’s lifetime, the executor helps administer the estate after a person passes away. The decedent (person who drafted the will) will name or nominate the executor in their will. The executor is responsible for probating the will, gathering and distributing assets, paying any estate debts, and filing a final tax return. Without a will or a named executor, the court will appoint an administrator to finalize the estate.
STEP THREE: Execute the Legal Documents Needed to Make Your Plan Official
Once you have reviewed your family situation and made your worst-case-scenario plan, the third step is the execute the legal documents. You’ll want to work with an experienced estate planning and probate attorney to make sure you have completed all the necessary documents and that your plan meets Georgia’s legal requirements.
While every case and family situation is unique, there are three estate planning documents that every individual should have. The first is a Last Will and Testament (also known as a will), which is a legal document providing instructions for the distribution of someone’s assets, upon their death. A will can also be used to designate a guardian for any minor children. The second document is a financial power of attorney, which authorizes someone to act on another person’s behalf in financial, real estate, and legal matters. That authorization could be for special circumstances (ex: sickness, incapacity) or at a designated future date. The third essential document is an advance directive for health care, which memorializes a person’s wishes concerning medical care if they are incapacitated or terminally ill. These wishes can relate to treatment, medical testing, or other care options. A person can also name the health care agent in the advance directive. This agent can make medical decisions on behalf of another individual – typically, because that individual is incapacitated or too sick to make their own medical decisions.
Have Additional Questions? Contact Siedentopf Law
An effective estate plan is one that is up-to-date, aligns with your current family situation, and reflects your personal priorities. With such a plan in place, you can begin this New Year with the peace of mind that your loved ones are protected. If you have additional questions about estate planning priorities for a fresh start, or if you would like to set up an estate planning consultation, contact Siedentopf Law via our website at EstateLawAtlanta.com or by calling (404) 736 – 6066.
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