Protecting your personal finances should be a top priority after you have spent your life accumulating assets and wealth. Estate planning attorneys are experts in asset protection, Wills, Estates, and Trusts.
Below are some pointers you should consider when reviewing your assets and how to best protect them.
Last Will and Testament
Everyone should have a Last Will and Testament. This is a document that directs your Executor (the person in charge of your affairs after you pass away) how to distribute your assets. Often, a husband and wife will have reciprocal Wills drafted where they leave everything to one another, depending on who passes away first. However, provisions should be made to leave the real property, liquid assets, collectibles, and motor vehicles to members of the family or friends as well. That is the role of the Last Will and Testament.
In a Last Will and Testament, you may leave anything you own to anyone you wish. There are no restrictions unless you own property jointly with another individual. However, for any property you own outright, you may divest that property to anyone in any share that you desire. You may leave the real property in certain shares to certain individuals, such as 50% to your son and 50% to your daughter.
What Can I Leave In My Will?
Real property (houses and land), bank accounts (in your individual name), collectibles (stamp and coin collections) and motor vehicles are most often the items that individuals leave to family and friends in their Last Will and Testament.
What Can’t I Leave In My Will?
Typically, life insurance policies and work-related investment plans such as annuities or 401(k) plan pass outside of the Last Will and Testament. This is because they have their own declared beneficiaries and do not need to pass through the Will.
Can I Exclude Anyone from my Will?
In certain instances, you may wish to exclude someone from your Will that would expect to receive something at the time you pass away. For example, you may wish to exclude your son or daughter due to a personal issue. In that case, it is recommended that you mention that person in the Will and state that you are not leaving them anything due to reasons known to you.
What is Probate?
Probate is the process where your Last Will and Testament is presented to the Court for review and approval. The Surrogate is the Judge who handles Probate matters. If you do not have a Last Will and Testament at the time you pass away, you are considered to have died “Intestate” and an Administration Proceeding will need to be filed if your heirs at law wish to receive your assets. If you die with a Will in place, it is called “Testate”, and your Will controls the distribution of your assets. This is why having a Last Will and Testament in place is so vital. Once you pass away, the Surrogate will review your Last Will and Testament, issue Letters Testamentary to your Executor and give them the power to carry out your wishes as set forth in your Will. If an Administration is necessary, your assets will be divided by an Administrator in a fashion that is decided by the Court.
Can my Will be Contested?
Your Will can be contested upon the grounds that you lacked the mental capacity to execute your Will or that you were subject to undue influence (meaning you were forced to sign the Will). An individual cannot contest your Will because he or she believes they were not left enough in your Will.
What is a Trust?
A trust is an instrument that is designed to avoid Probate. The trust places real property, liquid assets, collectibles and/or motor vehicles in trust for another individual during your lifetime with the direction that the asset will pass to that other individual at the time of your death. This enables the individual to bypass the Probate process completely in that provisions are made within the body of the trust itself so that legal title and ownership passes to the beneficiary automatically upon your death.
Estate Planning is a crucial step for any individual who has spent their life acquiring assets and building wealth. Those assets and that wealth should be protected by an Estate plan that is designed by expert Asset protection attorneys.