Your New Year’s Resolution #1: Making Sure Your Estate Plan Is In Order

estate planningOne of the most important resolutions you can make is to make sure your estate plan is in order.  This means more than just having a will. If you have minor children, you need to plan for who will manage their inheritance for them. You also need to prepare for how your finances will be managed when you are unable to take care of them yourself as well as arrange for health care decisions to be made on your behalf if it becomes necessary.

The only way to be sure your wishes are followed if you become incapacitated or die is to have proper documents in place when you are still able to make your own decisions. If you die without planning ahead for how you want your assets to be distributed, they will be divided according to state law. Your family and heirs will have no say in what happens. There are a few documents you most certainly should have in place prior to becoming incapacitated or prior to your death.

Importance of Having a Will

Drafting your will gives you the opportunity to specifically plan for how you want your personal and real property to be distributed after your death. You name someone you trust as executor, or administrator, who makes sure your wishes as you expressed them in your will are followed.  In order to be a valid will, it must meet Georgia rules including that it must be in writing, signed by the testator, who is the person writing the will, and be signed by the appropriate number of witnesses.

If you die intestate, which is without a will, Georgia law establishes the order upon which your heirs will receive your assets. If you are married without children, your widow will inherit all of your assets. If you do have children, your wife and children will each share equally in the estate as long as your widow receives no less than one-third of your entire estate. The law provides for various contingencies depending on your family members who are alive and available to share in the estate.

Providing for Minor Children by way of a Testamentary Trust

You may leave any possession to your minor children by way of a testamentary trust included as part of your will. This means you name someone you trust to manage the assets until your children reach the age of 18. You can also state a different age upon which you want your children to receive their inheritance. Once again, preparation of this document gives you the opportunity to articulate your wishes which the trusted person must carry out.

Other Important Documents You Should Have Up to Date

Two documents which are important to have ready in case you are unable to manage our own health care decisions or financial affairs include:

  1. A Durable Financial Power of Attorney: In this document, you name someone you trust enough to act as your agent and handle your finances if you become ill or incapacitated. This person will pay your bills, collect and deposit funds which are due you, make investments and make any other financial decisions that need to be made. You decide when it takes effect, which can be on the day you sign it, upon a date certain that you designate or when you become incapacitated. You also designate when you want the power to end.
  2. A Healthcare Power of Attorney: You name an agent who will make health care decisions for you when you are unable to make them for yourself. Your agent will be able to make decisions about whether  you should go to a nursing home, be admitted to hospice care, donate organs or even allow an autopsy.

For either power of attorney, you may change your agent and name an alternate agent in case the person you initially want to act for you is unable to or refuses to act on your behalf.

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