Complete Estate Planning: Wills

This is the year for finally getting your estate plan done!


We know that most adults put off estate planning. The whole thing can seem unnecessary, overwhelming, and expensive.  Our aim is to show you that estate planning does not have to complicated, expensive, or stressful.  This week and for the next several weeks, we are going to explain each important piece of a complete estate plan.


Today we’ll start with wills. Most adults are familiar with wills and focused on their importance. We think of them as essential to a complete estate plan but not the most important piece (more on this in the coming weeks).


Wills give guidance on how you want your assets to be divided and who you want to handle your estate after you die.


You currently own assets that fall into one of three categories:

  1. They have a beneficiary designation (including assets held in a trust).
  2. They have a joint owner(s).
  3. They are only owned by you and have no beneficiary assigned to them.


Only assets that fall into the last category will be addressed by your will.


Some assets, like bank accounts, life insurance policies, and trusts, can have beneficiaries.  These assets are transferred to the named beneficiaries after your death. Likewise some assets, like property and bank accounts, can be jointly owned by another person.  These assets usually become solely owned by the other joint owner(s) after your death.


The assets that have no named beneficiary or no co-owners, must go through probate.


During the probate process, the directions in your will are carried out and ultimately the assets controlled by the will are distributed according to your directions. A will protects your wishes; if you fail to have one, your estate is divided up pursuant to your state’s current intestacy law. A properly executed and comprehensive will can ease the probate process and reduce family squabbles.

Parents of young children have the ability to name their children’s guardian in their wills. A will or a trust will also allow you to name someone to watch over assets for a child or a disabled or elderly family member.


If a person that you name to inherit receives public benefits, those benefits may be lost without proper planning. Properly planning for an heir with special needs who may be receiving (or could soon be receiving Medicaid, VA benefits, or other support) can help protect access to crucial benefits. You can learn more about the importance of wills for Medicaid planning here.


Wills are not a “set it and forget it” task.


A will should be reviewed every several years or if one of the following events occurs:

  • There has been a birth, death, divorce, marriage or adoption in your family.
    The individuals you have named are deceased.
    • You need to change one of the guardians, personal representatives, or trustees.
    • Your beneficiaries have become disabled or have moved into a nursing home.
    • Your children have reached the age of 18.
    • You have experienced a substantial increase or decrease in the value of your estate.
    • Your state has adopted new laws.
    • You move to a new state.


So even if you currently have a will, it may be time to review it.


The most obvious reason for updating your will is if there is a change in who should handle your affairs, take care of your dependents, or inherit your assets. Commonly, though, wills need to be updated because state laws change.


Your will should have a self-proving affidavit.


In Georgia, we currently have a self-proving clause (or a sworn statement at the end of a will that is made by the testator and witnesses in the presence of a notary). This clause allows an executor to probate the will without the need to hunt down the witnesses to the will. This clause was first introduced in 1984; so any will made prior to 1984 does not have a self-proving affidavit and will require the executor to locate the witnesses to the will during the probate process. This may cost the executor a considerable amount of time, money and headache. An updated will would have avoided this problem.


We know—estate planning is not fun. With the right counsel, though, the process can be smooth and stress-free.


So, here’s to the year of getting things done!

You can start this process with Hurley Elder Care Law today by contacting our office at (404) 843-0121 or through our website for a complimentary phone consultation.


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