Some folks are just do-it-yourself types. However, when it comes to something like an estate plan, you should consult an estate planner in Arkansas.
Many people live for the feeling of independent accomplishment that comes with completing a task. You gain this pleasure from the feeling of accomplishment when you install for example new windows or flooring into your home.
Unfortunately, people often approach estate planning the same way. When you see “will kits” at the office supply store, it is tempting to buy one and think you can put together a will yourself, thereby saving a lot of money. If you have few or no assets and no spouse and no children, then that might be a viable choice. Most of the time, however, crafting a will can be problematic. If you make a mistake installing carpets or windows, then you can fix that mistake. However, if you die with a defective wil, then you cannot redo it. This explains why everyone needs a highly qualified Arkansas estate planner to feel they have a plan that will help their family and fulfill their wishes.
The perils of planning an estate yourself
Years ago, the Florida Supreme Court handed down what can be called a “cautionary tale” — that is, a decision that shows the potential pitfalls of trying to do a will by yourself without an estate planning professional.
In 2004, a woman created her will using a “will kit.” In the “Bequests” section, she hand-wrote a list of possessions including an insurance policy, bank accounts, a house, and a vacant lot. She instructed that the listed possessions go to her sister or, if her sister died first, to her brother.
Unfortunately, her sister did die before her. As a result, the woman inherited her sister’s real estate holdings and a significant amount of cash that she put into a separate account she opened later. A few months after receiving that inheritance, she hand-wrote the following note on a nondescript sheet of writing paper with “Just a Note” printed at the top:
“This is an addendum to my will dated April 5, 2004. Since my sister Mary jean [sic] Eaton has passed away, I reiterate that all my worldly possessions pass to my brother James Michael Aldrich, (his address). With her agreement I name Sheila Aldrich Schuh, my niece, as my personal representative, and have assigned certain bank accounts to her to be transferred on my death for use as she seems [sic] fit.”
The “addendum” was dated November 18, 2008 and signed by the woman and her brother’s daughter. Based on this, it would seem obvious that when the woman died, her brother should have inherited everything in her estate. However, there was a problem. The “will kit” did not include what is called a “residuary clause” that would have addressed what should happen to any property not specifically listed in the will such as the assets acquired from her sister.
The “addendum” also failed to comply with Florida state law requiring all wills and codicils to be signed in the presence of two witnesses, not one. As a result, the real estate and cash she inherited from her sister went to two nieces determined to be “next of kin” as children of a predeceased brother. The two nieces were able to show themselves to be “intestate heirs” and should share in the distribution of the real estate and cash the sister left. The lower court sided with the brother, but the Florida Supreme Court sided with the nieces.
What does an estate planner do?
This case reiterates the importance of detailing even the finest details of your estate. Creating a will should be meticulous, and you should follow the letter of the law. If you fail to meet all state legal requirements, then it is as if you have no will. This means the state probate court will decide who gets which assets and not you.
Estate planners help their clients maintain control over their finances and their assets, making sure they get to plan for its disposition. This means helping clients prepare wills and trusts in a way that allows them to fulfill their wishes even after their death.
An experienced estate planning lawyer will work with you to help evaluate your goals. They will help you develop a customized estate plan that is designed to provide greater security for yourself and your family. The plan they devise will also minimize the taxes on your estate and they can help you avoid probate and minimize the tax effects on your estate.
A qualified estate planning lawyer can prepare your estate plan for any eventuality, including your possible incapacity during your lifetime. For example, if you were to develop dementia or be injured in an accident, unable to manage your life and make personal, financial, and medical decisions, you should be able to choose someone you trust to do that for you. Your estate planner can ensure that you, not a total stranger chosen by the state of Arkansas, make all the decisions regarding your estate.
Estate planners can also help you update your plan
It is important to realize that an estate plan is not something you write up, put in a drawer, and forget about until you die. Life and financial circumstances change, meaning your estate plan has to change with them. You should meet with your estate planner every few years to review your will, trusts, or other instruments to ensure everything still does what you want it to do.
No one should put together an estate plan without an experienced estate planner working with them. There are too many details, and the stakes can be very high if you make a mistake, so contact Estate Planners of Arkansas today for a free consultation.