As 2016 draws to a close, we find ourselves pondering what we should do differently in 2017. Live a healthier lifestyle? Lose weight? Spend less? Live life to the fullest? The truth is that less than 8% of us keep these resolutions because they require too much will power! What if you could instead resolve to give yourself and your family the gift of peace of mind by protecting your assets?
A clear and intelligent estate plan will ensure you and your heirs get the maximum benefit from your hard earned legacy. Equally important, it will also protect you should you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself. Make an appointment now, and put these items at the top of your “to do” list for 2017:
Last Will – If you don’t have a will, get one. People often assume their assets will go straight to their spouse, but that isn’t the case in South Carolina. It’s no surprise that this very important family document causes many to turn a blind eye, which can be a very costly mistake, impacting the ones you love the most. Similarly, if you have a will and it hasn’t been updated in more than five years, I urge you to carefully review it to see if it needs revisions. Has there been a birth in the family, a divorce, death or relocation? All of these warrant updates.
Plan for Incapacity – Advancements in medical care are helping us live longer; however, as a result many more of us will suffer from diminished mental capacity. Having a power of attorney and health care agent in place will help your family take care of you when you’re unable to take care of yourself. Don’t make the tragic error of assuming your spouse will be available to handle making decisions or handling your financial affairs for you. More often than not, we see a couple’s health decline together or spouses involved in a simultaneous accident leaving the family unprepared to make these decisions.
Review Titles – There are a myriad of options for titling your real property (homes and other land) as well as certain personal property (cars, boats and recreational vehicles) to protect them from creditors at your death. However, each option has its pros and cons and should be discussed in detail with your attorney. For example, titling a vehicle or home jointly with rights of survivorship with your spouse is a great estate planning tool, but not recommended with children. Similarly, putting assets in a trust can be a valuable tool, however keep in mind it can increase property taxes if not handled correctly.
Confirming Beneficiaries – Bank accounts, insurance policies, retirements accounts . . . they all allow naming of beneficiaries. Consider reviewing your beneficiaries on an annual basis to ensure they fit with your overall estate plan, keeping in mind possible contingencies (such as your spouse passing away before you). As the new year begins, it’s easy to do this while collecting statements for your tax returns. It’s also a great idea to compile all of these statements in a notebook with your other estate planning documents so that your personal representative can locate them quickly and not delay funds getting to your chosen beneficiary.
These are just a few of the most important considerations for resolving in 2017 to protect your assets from probate. An estate planning attorney can quickly evaluate your circumstances and make recommendations based on your unique situation. Do you have young children for whom a guardian and trust might be recommended? Assets in another state? A blended family? A consult with an attorney will put you on track to a resolution you can accomplish and feel good about . . . and it will likely cost less than that unused gym membership.