Intestacy is what happens when a person dies without expressing their wishes for what will happen with their estate in a form that is legally enforceable. When this happens, state intestate laws control how the deceased person's assets will be distributed.
How these laws would distribute your estate might differ greatly from what you would want. Also, your estate going into intestacy could raise some complicated and contentious issues for your family. So, there are a range of reasons you may want to avoid intestacy through having a legally enforceable estate plan.
When considering an estate plan, there are many things individuals may wonder. One is if having an estate plan is only something they have to worry about if they have a considerable amount of assets.
Something for everyone
A family law attorney will be the first to explain that you do not have to be wealthy for an estate plan to be helpful. Individuals of all asset levels can benefit from having an estate plan. As to assets, you probably have more than you think. You will discover this fact if you draw up a list, which is a good way to prepare. Organize your income and debts. Include your home, your bank accounts, any investments or business interests, your IRA, jewelry, artwork and even your collection of old baseball cards. Think about bequests, the items you want certain people to inherit upon your death.
The common parts of an estate plan
There are a range of elements an estate plan can include. One basic estate planning tool is a will, which sets out your wishes and how you want your assets distributed to beneficiaries in a legally enforceable form. Some estate plans include trusts, which hold your assets and could help with a variety of goals, including keeping assets out of probate.
Laying out your wishes for how your assets will be distributed when you die and avoiding intestacy are not the only things estate plans could help with. Some estate planning tools are aimed at serving important roles while you are still alive. This includes powers of attorney for health care and financial matters. Through a power of attorney for health care, for instance, you can name someone you trust to handle health care decisions for you if you should become incapacitated and cannot act for yourself.
Clearing the way
Before you meet with an attorney to put your strategy in motion, you may wish to have a meeting with your family. Letting your loved ones know what is important to you, and listening to their comments, could go a long way toward diffusing any conflicts when you are no longer around to handle the issues. Remember also that circumstances in life change. Once you set up an estate plan, be sure to revisit it from time to time to make any necessary adjustments.