By having an estate plan, you can avoid placing a significant burden on your loved ones. This burden includes deciding who will receive your property after your death and how your affairs will be administered if you are unable to carry on during life. Failure to plan ahead can result in high legal costs and a long, drawn-out process associated with probate, both during your life and after your death. It is our hope that this article will inform people of some of the less obvious reasons to meet with an estate planning attorney.
1. Placing your Affairs in Order is Much Less Expensive than Doing Nothing
One of the most common concerns associated with estate planning is the upfront cost. Although drafting a concise and effective set of documents is not without cost, it is far less expensive than not having a plan in place. An experienced attorney can ensure that your fees are kept as low as possible while drafting a personalized set of documents including a will, trust, powers of attorney, and the other documents that are required to meet your needs.
2. Michigan Law is Particularly Unforgiving for Those who Do Not Have an Estate Plan
The law of estates and trusts varies greatly between the states. Michigan is a state that greatly benefits those who have a formal estate plan and punishes those who do not. When someone dies without a will, a decedent’s property passes through what is called intestate succession. Under intestate succession, a decedent’s property is distributed at a formal probate court proceeding to the decedent’s surviving spouse and/or heirs automatically, and in amounts determined by law. This proceeding is quite complex and requires significant attorney participation, which can get quite expensive. Many individuals do not realize that even if they have a will, probate court is still required to administer the estate, assets, debts and expenses. By drafting an estate plan that includes a living trust, formal probate proceedings are avoided, and typically all the decedent’s property can be distributed without any probate court involvement whatsoever.
3. Estate Planning Addresses Life Events, Not Just Death
Another common misconception is that healthy, young people don’t need an estate plan. Estate documents address life events and death events. A well-designed estate plan contains documents that will allow a loved one to make medical decisions for you and prevent loved ones from having to guess what you would have wanted should serious illness or injury occur. The living trust and the power of attorney permit a family member, as opposed to the probate court, to help with decision-making and long-term care arrangements. In addition, all assets, income, expenses, insurances and other financial obligations can be handled smoothly and inexpensively.
Determining an individual’s unique situation and what documents are needed is typically outlined with clients in the first meeting. It makes good sense for individuals and couples to contact an estate planning attorney to get the process underway sooner rather than later.