Will and estate planning are the processes that are undertaken in connection with the distribution of property after a person dies. The process traditionally begins with the decedent’s Will, which is prepared during his/her lifetime and filed with probate court. However, in the modern era, there are increasingly less formal means of wills. In fact, a common mistake made by some people is to presume that the process of wills and estates has to do with probate court. This is actually a misconception because under normal circumstances wills can be prepared and filed without needing to go through a court of law.
An outright distribution of property will only require a basic Will, which does not need any witnesses. If you want one or more specific estate plans you might need a witnessative trust, in which case a testamentary trust will also be required in the Will. Alternatively, the will can leave assets to an existing pre-existing inter vivos trust, in which case it’s called a “multi-trust” Will. It’s always advisable to seek the counsel of an experienced estate planning attorney before taking any action regarding your estate plan.
It’s important to realize that all of the formal legal documents required for the estate planning process do not apply to the distribution of your assets, which are left to the discretion of your will. In some cases, your will can state that the distribution of some or all of your assets takes place immediately, while other cases will take longer. Some states have made the process much easier by requiring minimal documentation that is more manageable. Your estate plan’s compliance is entirely up to you and the applicable authorities.
Trusts and estates are very complex and there are certain types of assets that are better suited for joint trusts, revocable trusts, life insurance policies, and the like than others are. For example, tax-exempt investments, corporate partnerships, and real property are better suited to joint and several trusts rather than large estates or other tax havens. Joint trusts and wills should be handled by attorneys who specialize in family law and estate planning. Attorneys who are familiar with state probate law may also be of assistance.
As with all legal matters, you must carefully review and evaluate all of your wishes prior to signing them. If a loved one has already passed on, you will likely have many wishes that must be granted consideration. Reading through all of your wishes and considering your best judgment can help you make the best decision. When it comes to the wishes of your family members, particularly children or spouses, you’ll want to listen to their perspectives and advice. If you think it would be in their best interest to undo your estate plan, you’ll want to let them know, but in some instances it may be necessary to take everyone’s wishes into consideration.
While your wishes should always be considered, it is not uncommon for two people, married or not, to have a will. If this is the case, each wants to make their desires known so that they are properly respected. If you do not have a will or trust, an estate planning attorney can assist you with making a plan. Your lawyer can also provide support after you pass to your beneficiaries. In the event of your unexpected or fatal accident, your lawyer can help you determine how your belongings will be distributed in the case of your death.