What do Jimi Hendrix, Steve McNair, Aretha Franklin, Prince, Howard Hughes, and Chadwick Boseman have in common? They all died without a will.*
The end of the year causes me to think you should make sure you have your house in order. You don’t have to be wealthy to create an estate plan, in fact, everyone should have a will and or a trust. The famous people listed above, as well as many others who died without leaving behind their final instructions, could have avoided leaving their loved ones in a lurch.
An estate plan is not just about leaving money or assets to the right people. It is also about running a business, raising children, keeping the family home or setting up trusts to care for family members. There could be a rental property, a pension plan or a safe of bonds or CDs that should be addressed.
Many young families hesitate to make a will, because they don’t want to have to name a guardian for their children. Yet, all adults and some minors with assets should have a will. Amy Winehouse died at age 27. Sonny Bono died in a skiing accident, both without a will. Yes, we even need to plan for the unexpected.
Intestate means someone has died without a will. The probate court is where a judge will determine who will receive assets according to state law. Since probate is a public process, many people want to avoid that. It also requires a six-month wait to determine if there are any creditors who need to come forward and make a claim against the estate. Proper estate planning may help avoid the probate process.
A will provides an avenue for you to leave instructions about how to distribute your assets, name a personal representative to settle the estate, and name guardians for a minor or a child with a disability. This is a very important first step in estate planning, to draft a will.
Keep in mind that a will by itself may not avoid probate. It depends on what the instructions in the will are. Some wills direct a trust to be established upon death. Some folks establish a living trust while they are alive that then directs assets upon their passing. Typically, with a trust, the probate process is not needed unless there are assets outside of the trust or the will and without beneficiaries listed. It is important to understand the different types of trusts and what is best for your situation. Plan to discuss your options with your financial adviser and estate attorney. Certain trusts can be used to protect heirs from creditors, to avoid estate taxes, to provide for a child with a disability and some are used to transfer wealth to a charity. A trust also provides more stipulations on wealth transfers, such as: “Johnny can receive half of his inheritance at age 25 and the remaining half at age 35.” There is no provision in a standard will for this level of detail. Trusts can also be established for future generations with stipulations to be used for health, education and maintenance, commonly called HEMs.
Another important factor to estate planning is proper beneficiary designation. It is crucial to name both a primary and a contingent beneficiary on all accounts. Life insurance, annuities and retirement accounts all require beneficiaries. You should also add beneficiaries to your bank and investment accounts and your real estate.
Estate planning is important to protect your loved ones and your hard-earned assets. Life happens and part of life is death. Now with COVID-19 or any other unexpected events, there is never a better time to get started or review an old estate plan than before year-end. Then you can share your updates with family and enjoy the Holidays!
* Sherri Johnson: Celebrities Who Died Without A Will
Patricia Kummer has been a Certified Financial Planner professional and a fiduciary for over 35 years and is Managing Director for Mariner Wealth Advisors, an SEC Registered Investment Adviser. Please visit www.marinerwealthadvisors.com for more information or refer to the Investment Adviser Public Disclosure website (www.adviserinfo.sec.gov). Securities offered through MSEC, LLC, Member FINRA & SIPC, 5700 W. 112th Suite 500, Overland Park, KS 66211.