What’s a Last Will and Testament?
By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
March 18, 2014
A Last Will and Testament or a “Will” is a legal document that expresses your postmortem wishes. It appoints a personal representative or executor to administer your estate. It designates a guardian of the person and property of minor children. It usually covers burial instructions, funeral expenses and estate tax apportionment. However, it is most commonly understood to govern the transfer of a deceased person’s property to his/her designated beneficiaries. The term “Property” includes everything you can possibly own, such as cash, stocks, bonds, houses, vehicles, jewelry, artwork, business interests, and even future interests-think Michael Jackson. His estate will be open for a very long time. In other words, property is everything you own, both now and in the future.
Importantly, please note that a will does not avoid Probate. A properly drafted and executed estate plan will remove all assets from your name and provide for a smooth transition for your family not only after death (avoiding probate), but in the event you become incapacitated from injury or illness (guardianship). It’s a no-brainer for both financial as well as emotional reasons. Depending on the complexity of the estate, an administration can last for years. In our economic environment, it can take even longer because there are less clerks, court staff and case managers. It’s also dangerously unpredictable and avoidable thus resulting in unnecessary administration expenses (including attorneys’ fees and costs). It’s also emotionally trying. I often analogize it to pouring salt on an open wound.
Having an estate plan demonstrates the highest form of responsibility to yourself and your family. A will represents the first step in the process. Consulting with a financial advisor is also critical, and it’s especially important that they communicate effectively and work together seamlessly. If you fail to create a will or otherwise plan your estate, your home state will decide many issues for you, such as designating beneficiaries and fiduciaries. Worse yet, your family will charged with wrapping up your affairs for you when you pass away or managing them if you become incapacitated. It’s analogous to an undesired and unpleasant second job focused exclusively on an already emotionally draining or painful experience. Planning ahead saves money and avoids these pitfalls and gives you the peace of mind and clarity about your life and personal and financial affairs both during life and after death.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Strategic Planning With Purpose
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