Nobody likes to think of death. Getting an estate in order forces people to do just that but it also does something else; it forces people to evaluate family ties, celebrate life and realize how their estate, or belongings, can benefit the people they leave behind.
While it’s common to think that only the wealthy have estates to leave behind with large sums of money and property being shared out among their family members, the truth is that everyone leaves an estate after death. The term “estate” is used to describe belongings regardless of how valuable they are.
So whether you have a lot or a little to share with your family members, there will be something to share and it’s important to set that up before your death, for various reasons.
- Cover your life, death and some of the in-between bits
Getting your estate in order is not always just about death though it is for those who are left behind in the event of your passing. Many families are often thrown into absolute financial turmoil due to medical bills, passed on debts and funeral costs.
Consolidate all debts and update your insurance documents.
- Life Cover – be sure to keep your beneficiaries current
- Medical Aid/hospital cover
- Disability cover
- Death/Funeral cover
Set up bank accounts to be transferable on death in order to skip the lengthy and expensive probate process.
- Set up a will
The easiest place to start is by evaluating what you have and to whom you want it to go. This is done in the form of a will or last testament. There are a number of ways to set up a will and depending on the extent of your estate, you may not even need a lawyer to draw up and official will.
Note that if you do set up a will on your own, you will need two witnesses (who are not beneficiaries of the will) to sign. It’s also recommended to have the will notarized.
Make a copy of your will. One should be kept in a safe place (don’t forget to tell someone trustworthy about it) the other should be sent to your estate administrator (see point 3).
- Appoint a suitable candidate as your “agent” in a power of attorney
The person you appoint to take care of your both your legal and financial affairs doesn’t have to be an attorney. Strictly speaking, a power of attorney is one who will manage your estate until the extent to which his duties were laid out in the will are reached.
This person should be someone you trust. The easiest way to consider this person is to think of someone you would trust to manage your estate while you’re still alive.
- Visit an estate lawyer who can take a look at your will
Although setting up your own will is entirely possible, you may have missed a few steps. Some of the steps won’t matter much but there are a few that could render your document useless. In order to keep this from happening, have an estate lawyer look over your documents. Your lawyer can then also advise you on how to move forward.
- Review your documents
Setting up a will should change as often as your estate does. Even something like buying a new dining room table can change the will. If it’s an antique and your collector granddaughter would love to own it after your passing – this should be in your will. Leave nothing up to speculation as these situations can become ugly among family members, even well-intended ones.
As a last note, a last will and testament should certainly be set up for anyone over the age of 18. Death is the one inevitable that no-one can run away from. While it’s not exactly a hot topic around the dinner table, getting your estate in order will help you have peace of mind that after you’re gone, your family is cared for.
The Micklin Law Group, LLC is a New Jersey law firm specializing in trust and estate planning. Attorney Brad Micklin was recently named to The National Advocates list of Top 100 attorneys from each state. Brad has a special expertise in working with many clients planning estates and drafting wills. You can read more on this topic by visiting our Estate Planning blog. To set up a consultation, call 973-562-0100.