A last will and testament is a vital legal instrument for your future.
When it comes to asset distribution, the phrase “where there is a will there is a way” fits the bill.
Did you know your assets will be distributed through probate if you have no last will and testament, no surviving joint owners, and no beneficiaries designated to receive them?
Yep, that is a fact.
And, under such circumstances, state law determines who gets what and the process will be far more complex and expensive.
If you have minor children and no last will and testament nominating "guardians" (i.e., backup parents) of your choosing, then a judge will decide who rears them to adulthood.
As you see, creating a last will and testament is vital.
According a recent Health Day article titled “Wills & Living Wills,” there are specific qualifications a last will and testament must meet in order to be considered valid.
This means you must be at least age 18.
You must be mentally capable of creating your last will and testament.
The document must be indicated to be your last will and testament.
You need to designate someone to ensure your wishes are carried out.
This individual is the executor (also known as the personal representative) of your last will and testament.
You must have two witnesses present at the signing of your last will and testament.
Do you need a notary?
Yes, best practice is for your last will and testament to be "self-proved" and that means having a notary, along with specific "magic" language in the affidavit appended to the legal instrument itself.
By taking this extra step the witnesses will not need to testify later on (after your death when the legal instrument is delivered to the probate court) that everything they witnessed during the execution of your last will and testament was done according to Hoyle.
These aforementioned points are general rules.
Many states have their own laws to supplement these.
In addition to laws being different, your circumstances could complicate a last will and testament.
One such complication involves blended families.
Whether you are on your first or your second marriage, you and your spouse should have separate last wills.
Do you already have a last will and testament?
If so, you should review it regularly.
Your will may require an update.
Did you move to a new state?
Did your family change through something like a remarriage, divorce, or new baby?
Is your executor no longer able to fulfill his or her duties?
Did an heir pass away?
Did the value of your assets grow or decrease?
Did any tax or probate laws change?
If the answer is "yes" to any of the above questions, then an update is important.
In addition to a last will and testament, your estate planning should also include a general durable power of attorney and an advanced health care directive.
These will allow others to make important decisions for you regarding financial or health care matters should you become incapacitated.
Estate planning in not a DIY project like staining your deck.
Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to create a plan to meet your needs and satisfy the laws of your state.
So, how do you find an "experienced" estate planning attorney?
First, ask around. Friends, family and other professional advisors are trustworthy sources.
Second, conduct an "organic" search on "Google" for "estate planning" near you (e.g., "Estate Planning Anytown MoKan").
Third, either way, verify! Check out the education, experience, ratings and client reviews of any attorney before you contact him or her.
In fact, I use both of these services to thoroughly vett attorneys before referring members of our "client" family for legal help in other areas of law or for matters in jurisdictions outside Kansas or Missouri.
Remember: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When making your financial, tax and estate plans, do not go it alone. Be sure to engage competent professional counsel.
For more information about estate planning in Overland Park, KS (and throughout the rest of Kansas and Missouri), visit our estate planning website and be sure to subscribe to our complimentary estate planning e-newsletter while you are there.
Reference: Health Day (March 21, 2018) “Wills & Living Wills”