A mere 32% of U.S. decedents die with a Last Will and Testament. The other 68% of decedents die intestate, i.e. without a Will, such that the decedent’s assets pass to persons specified by the state legislature. Many clients are shocked to learn that if a Georgia decedent dies intestate leaving a surviving spouse and two children, each of these heirs receives an equal one-third share of the decedent’s estate outright, regardless of their capacity to manage their inheritance prudently. Minors or incapacitated adult heirs may have their intestate shares subjected to a Probate Court-supervised Conservatorship.
The estate planning process is designed to assure that the client’s loved ones and other beneficiaries are provided for in the manner specified by the client, and managed by persons designated by the client. All clients, regardless of the size of their estates, should engage in estate planning to effectuate their intentions and to assure that their legacies live on as they envisioned. For those clients who have been blessed with an estate that is sufficiently large to risk the imposition of the federal estate tax, estate planning also involves minimizing (and often eliminating) the amount of the decedent’s assets that will be paid to the Internal Revenue Service and state taxing authorities.
All clients should also implement proper planning for a lifetime disability or incapacity, whether temporary or permanent. A person is more than twice as likely to become totally incapacitated than to die prior to age sixty-five. The failure to execute financial powers of attorney and health care directives often results in the cumbersome Court-supervised appointment of Conservators or Guardians for those persons.
For clients who own real estate in more than one state, proper estate and disability planning is even more critical. Using a funded “Revocable Living Trust,” i.e. created and funded with the client’s assets during life rather than after death, is an effective and flexible technique to address these myriad issues. Importantly, a funded Revocable Living Trust can also minimize the risk of elder financial abuse as the aging process diminishes the judgment and executive functioning of clients and they become prime targets of the “Crime of the 21st Century.”
Counsel at The Bowden Law Firm is well-suited to advise each client in these troubling areas, to design effective and protective estate and disability plans, and to implement those plans both during the client’s lifetime and after his or her Will “matures.”