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Duluth Georgia Estate Planning Legal Blog

Wills are just as important for those without children

Many Georgia residents who don't have children may believe that they don't need a last will and testament. However, estate planning experts say just the opposite. In fact, a will might be even more important for an estate owner without obvious heirs.

When a person dies without a will or trust, property is disposed by the state laws of intestate succession. Generally, these laws place the priorities of distribution to blood relatives in various "classes" of relation. For example, parents will receive the property only if no spouse or lineal descendants exist.

Identifying interested parties for probate litigation

In some cases, after the death of a person in Georgia, there could be a legal challenge to the person's will. This is known as probate litigation. However, as part of that litigation, it might be necessary to determine who is an "interested party." This includes the people named in the last will and testament, but others may be interested parties as well.

All surviving family members are considered interested parties. This is the case whether or not they are included in the will. Furthermore, everyone named in the will is also an interested party. If there is a previous will, people named in that will might also be considered interested parties.

Informing children and other beneficiaries about a trust

One of the most common reasons for setting up a trust in Georgia, or any other state for that matter, is to generously provide for children or grandchildren. Typically, distributions won't begin until many years later. Because of this, some individuals who set up trusts tend to hold off on letting children, grandkids, or other beneficiaries know about the wealth or assets that may be coming their way.

There are plenty of valid reasons for setting up trusts so that distributions are held back until a certain age is reached, or dished out with specific requirements or stipulations attached. Still, this is entirely different from the process of trust makers (settlors) officially letting beneficiaries know a trust exists. Some well-off parents or grandparents may wish to keep beneficiaries in the dark to avoid issues with extravagant spending and other reckless behaviors. But many states have either adopted a Uniform Trust Code (UTC) or similar laws that require trust beneficiaries to be kept reasonably informed.

Estate planning and charitable giving

By giving to a charity, a Georgia resident can feel like they're giving back to the community they love. While some donate every year or work as volunteers, others make their biggest contributions at the time of their passing. A solid estate plan can help ensure a healthy chunk of change goes to an important charity

An estate plan allows one to dedicate a certain sum of money that is to be given to the cause of their choosing once they die. Donating in such a manner may seem complicated at first considering all the relevant tax laws and attorney fees. However, estate plans give people various options to choose from.

Avoiding probate and family conflicts

Some estate planners in Georgia might be concerned about the probate process. In general, all estates must pass through probate unless there are provisions in place to transfer assets to heirs in other ways.

For example, heirs could be made joint owners on accounts and other assets, but the disadvantage is that this means the heir is the joint owner while the person is still alive. Another option is to use transfer-on-death provisions. However, many experts say the best approach to avoiding probate is to place all assets in a revocable trust.

Signs you need a trust for your estate plan

Every estate plan is unique. If you are thinking of how to protect and transfer your assets when you die, you may wonder how to do it in the most effective manner. The right estate plan is comprehensive, efficient and cost-effective. 

Sometimes, a trust is the perfect aspect of an estate plan. They are flexible and helpful in many situations. Here are some signs you may benefit from setting up a trust for your estate.

Estate planning when dealing with addiction

In 2016, there were more than 42,000 deaths related to opioid use, which was a 500 percent increase from 1999, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Georgia residents who are trying to create an estate plan may need to account for a loved one's addiction. This may be necessary to protect the best interests of the addict as well as the family.

It is rarely a good idea to leave an addict out of a will or trust entirely. It is also rarely a good idea to leave large sums of money with no strings attached. An incentive trust could be an effective tool in providing for an addict while ensuring that he or she is committed to recovering or staying sober. Families will need to search for both qualified legal representation and the right trustee when creating this type of document.

Are trusts better than wills?

Trusts and wills are legal instruments used in Georgia for estate planning purposes. Neither one is better than the other. They are simply different. A will acts as a guide for handling a person's estate after he or she dies. For instance, a will might specify how to dispose of property and provide for the care of minor children.

On the other hand, a trust is a legal entity that can provide certain benefits during a person's lifetime as well as after his or her death. One of these benefits is that a trust can own property. This makes it possible for a person to create a trust, put his or her assets into it and then act as trustee. While that individual is alive, there is very little change in how the assets are handled. For example, a home owned by the trust that needs to be sold can be sold by the trustee.

Life insurance provides cash for immediate estate expenses

People with large estates in Georgia might want to investigate the potential usefulness of life insurance within an estate planning strategy. A life insurance policy could provide cash soon after the benefactor's passing to assist heirs with near-term estate administration expenses. Even heirs of a wealthy individual might not have the resources on hand to meet immediate expenses like funeral costs, probate court fees and estate taxes. Life insurance relieves heirs of this burden and prevents the rushed sale of valuable assets at a discount.

Life insurance policies generally pay beneficiaries, which could be people or trusts, soon after the death of the policyholder. This money could cover the many expenses that arise, such as medical bills from end-of-life care, other debts and fees for professionals such as accountants or attorneys. Some estates might impose federal or local tax bills on heirs that are usually due in the first nine months after receiving an inheritance.

Special needs trusts and estate planning

Parents of children with disabilities who are living in Georgia are often concerned about estate planning. If a person with a disability is receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, getting additional income, even in the form of an estate bequest, could disrupt SSI payments and eligibility for Medicaid.

Because SSI and Medicaid benefits are awarded based on both disability as well as financial need, any income from any source needs to be accounted for to determine whether the recipient is entitled to continue receiving financial assistance. A standard bequest in a will, for example, could make the beneficiary ineligible for Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid benefits. Once the money from the bequest runs out, the beneficiary would have to reapply for benefits, something that could create significant financial and personal hardship.

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