I have been practicing in the estate planning and probate area since 1991, around 24 years, and the reason I became involved in estate planning is because when I was about 3 years old my mom and dad did their estate planning and set up a trust and in 1970, when I was 8, my dad died from a heart attack. Back then you could not leave a lot of money to the surviving spouse without the government taking a lot of it in estate taxes. Our local bank was the trustee with my mom, and when I was about 17 or 18, I became interested in how the bank managed the money and how the trust operated.
When I went to law school, I found myself moving towards the estate planning and tax classes and I really enjoyed it, so that is how I became an estate planning attorney. When I practice estate planning law now, I know how the parents want it, but I also understand it from the point of view of the beneficiaries, which makes me somewhat unique. I have a different perspective and the clients seem to like that because they understand that I know how the kids will deal with this process.
Do Most People Assume They Have No Estate or Any Assets?
Everyone has an estate; some are large, some are small, some are generic and some are unique, but everyone has an estate, since “estate” simply means everything you own. When people tell me they do not have a big enough estate to plan, I tell them that everyone has an estate to plan and I ask them if they want someone else deciding who receives their assets, administering their affairs or making medical decisions for them, because that is what happens if they do not plan. Everyone needs to plan for their estate.
Most people know that they have an estate; they just do not want to deal with it. It is not like you go to a cocktail party or a BBQ and you start talking about when you die, and you have not figured out who you want to leave your stuff to; it is a subject people just do not want to talk about. Couples that come in often feature one spouse who wants to talk about this subject and the other spouse is in tears because they are thinking about losing the other spouse and they do not want to deal with that, so I often have to overcome a mountain of inertia and fear when we do estate planning.
Why Do People Typically Avoid Making An Estate Plan?
There are a fair number of people who are lazy about it, but most just do not know where to start, because it is such a touchy subject for people; no one wants to talk about when they are going to die or become incapacitated and who they want to leave their stuff to. It is not like there is plenty of good information out there about how to properly plan. My website is kind of unique in that I make that information available, but when I go to other attorney’s websites, they are basically sales brochures, rather than informational places for people to gain knowledge they will need to make decisions and to understand the process. On my website, I have listed the steps needed to put together an estate plan, whether you hire me or not. My website will help a client plan their own estate.
What Can Potentially Happen If Someone Passes Away Without An Estate Plan?
When someone dies without a will or a trust, the state law of intestate succession kicks in and dictates who gets the assets, and determines who has the authority to file a probate petition and administer your estate. If you have done nothing to create guidelines as to who will be the guardian for your children, it will be a free-for-all in the probate court. I just had to deal with one of those recently and it got a little bit testy because, when it comes to money, people get weird, but when it’s other people’s money, they get really weird.
When someone dies and they do not have their estate affairs in order, it just ends up in the system and however it is dealt with is how the estate will play out. Most of the time, it will not be what you wanted, but that is how it plays out; that is the system.
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