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Buford Estate Administration & Estate Planning Law Blog

Easing estate administration and probate with a digital plan

There is likely a large number of people in Georgia who pay their bills and manage other types of accounts electronically. This option has several benefits, including helping to reduce paperwork in a person's house, save money and help the environment. However, it can be troublesome during the estate administration and probate process if estate administrators or trustees are not aware of the existence of certain assets and debts and are unable to access them.

While more states are enacting laws that address how trustees and others can access digital assets and obtain passwords, many states still do not. Fortunately, including specific directions regarding digital accounts as part of an estate plan can significantly help those trusted with overseeing a person's estate. Relatively simple actions can significantly ease this process.

The importance of wills and other estate planning documents

Everyone is likely aware of their mortality. However, many people in Georgia and across the country put off estate planning for another day for a variety of different reasons. Regardless of the reasons, the creation of wills and other estate planning documents can significantly reduce the burden that surviving family members experience upon the passing of a loved one.

The cases involving several celebrities illustrate many of the pitfalls associated with not having a will or trust or having a plan that is out of date. For example, when James Gandolfini passed away, he left behind an estate valued at approximately $70 million. However, some reports indicate that a large portion of the estate went to taxes. Others, such as Anna Nicole Smith and Philip Seymour Hoffman, named their oldest children in their wills, excluding younger children.

Trusts: Dispute between Alan Thicke's children and wife

The unexpected loss of a loved one is the worst nightmare of many families in Georgia. Even in situations where the loved one has planned ahead and created trusts -- for example, to help explain their wishes in regard to the division of their estate -- confusion over the person's wishes due to perceived contradictions in legal documents can create even more stress for family members. Unfortunately, reports indicate that the oldest sons of Alan Thicke are involved in an estate dispute with Thicke's wife.

Thicke passed away unexpectedly in Dec. 2016 of a heart attack while playing hockey with his youngest son. Since his death, his oldest sons, who serve as the executors of his living trust, have filed a petition in court to clarify the interplay between the prenuptial agreement signed by Thicke and his wife in 2005 and instructions left in his trust which had been updated in 2016. The sons accuse the woman of overreaching and greed, while she claims she is only seeking to ensure that Thicke's estate is divided according to his wishes.

Protecting trusts in the event of a divorce

Most people in Georgia work hard to support themselves in life. Many are successful enough that they have assets to leave behind for family members after their death. However, there are many special considerations when it comes to distributing assets. For example, some people want to ensure that family members retain the asset, rather than it being divided with a spouse in the event of a divorce. Fortunately, there are some ways to protect an estate in the event a beneficiary seeks to end his or her marriage, including the creation of trusts.

There are a variety of ways to protect assets obtained through an inheritance from division in a divorce. One option is to ensure that they are titled only in the beneficiary's name. Ensuring that an inherited property is kept completely separate from marital assets can help the beneficiary maintain the asset as separate property. 

Contesting the validity of wills: Judge rules will is fake

While it serves multiple purposes, estate planning is one of the most important things a person can do to ensure that his or her wishes are met when they have passed away. Those in Georgia who have chosen to create wills with an experienced attorney can help ensure that their wishes are known and less susceptible to a successful challenge. A judge has recently tossed a will that one woman claims a deceased man who lived in another state created before his death.

The man passed away in Jan. 2015 when he was 34 years old. According to reports, he suffered fatal injuries in a car accident. Following his death, a woman claimed that she discovered his will, locked in a gun safe. That will purportedly left everything -- including a $2 million civil settlement -- to the woman's daughter, who she claimed was engaged to the man at the time of his death. It excluded the man's only son.

Creating trusts as part of the estate planning process

Many families in Georgia choose to take measures that will allow them to ensure that the needs of their family are met even when they are no longer around. One way to do this is through the creation of trusts. Although they can be complicated to create, many people have found a revocable living trust the perfect estate planning tool.

Some professionals describe a trust as being similar to a box. Items are placed in the box, and a document is created, often by an experienced attorney, to provide instructions on how the box will be maintained and accessed. For example, the document will name a trustee to manage the box as well as directions on how and when items can be removed from the box and by whom.

Trusts can provide for beloved pets in Georgia

Statistics released by the Insurance Information Institute reveal that the majority of households in the United States -- approximately 65 percent -- have one pet or more. For many families, a pet is more than an animal but a beloved member of the family. Even further, some reports by the National Center for Health Research found that elderly people who cared for a pet were better able to care for themselves, sometimes preventing the need for an assisted living facility. Because of their concern for their pets, many people in Georgia want to ensure that their pets' needs are met even when they are unable to do so on their own, often prompting them to seek information on tools such as trusts

Pet owners can leave detailed instructions to their family members about how they want their pet cared for after their death. Some people choose to write a letter of instruction, explaining the importance of the pet and details regarding its care. However, because pets are considered personal property under the law, money or assets cannot be left directly to a pet.

Majority of Americans do not have wills

If asked, the vast majority of people in Georgia and across the country would likely claim to be aware of the importance of estate planning documents. These documents can range from wills that indicate who will have custody of children and explain how assets should be distributed to powers of attorney which indicate who will make medical and financial decisions in the event a person becomes incapacitated. However, a recent survey reveals that a majority of adults in the United States do not have necessary documents in place.

The survey involved 1,000 adults respondents. While 81 percent of people age 72 or older indicated they did have a will, only 58 percent of people aged 53 to 71 did and most aged 18 to 52 did not. According to the survey, approximately 60 percent overall did not have a will.

The importance of wills for the single or childless

Although the importance of the estate planning process may be obvious to some, for a variety of different reasons, many people in Georgia put it off for another day. This may be especially true for married couples with children as they expect that their estate will be divided according to state law, which may align with their wishes. While estate planning -- including the creation of wills -- is important for everyone, it can be especially beneficial for people who are not married or do not have children.

A married couple without children may decide that they do not need a will as their spouse will inherit everything upon the other person's death. However, if the man dies, for example, and the wife passes away shortly thereafter, the couple's estate could pass to the woman's family, even if she did not have a relationship with them. Additionally, couples who cohabitate but are not married may have their assets divided in a way that is contrary to their wishes if there is no will in place to express them.

Retitling assets into trusts is an important step

For some people in Georgia, the prospect of the estate planning process can seem daunting. However, they recognize the importance of completing the task and work to create the necessary documents. For many, this may include the creation of trusts. But once a trust is created, the work still is not complete; the creator of the trust, the settlor, must ensure that the trust is properly funded.

Many who create trusts do so to help their beneficiaries avoid the public and often lengthy and expensive probate process. Unfortunately, they may not retitle their assets into the fund after the creation of the trust. For example, a couple has a retirement account that lists their children as beneficiaries. Upon their death, the retirement account skips the trust, potentially creating financial complications for the children. If there is a supplemental needs trust involved for an adult child who receives government aid, for example, his or her benefits may be affected because the asset would go directly to the beneficiary, not to the trust.

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