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Benefits of Having an Estate Plan
Many people mistakenly believe that only the super-rich could benefit from having an estate plan. This is very far from the reality, which is that nearly all people can benefit from having an estate plan. Yet, despite this, fewer than half of all Americans currently have any type of estate plan, even down to a simple will. Of course, when you consider an estate plan, you are forced to confront your own mortality, which can be difficult for most of us.
Additionally, in our busy world, it can simply be hard to find the time to think about all the factors involved in an estate plan, then implement those decisions into a comprehensive estate plan. It is important to remember two things—no matter your current age, life is uncertain, and you would never want to leave your loved ones with a chaotic situation to deal with. Secondly, having an experienced estate planning attorney by your side can make the entire process imminently more bearable. Just a few of the many benefits associated with having an estate plan include:
- Ensures your family members are provided for—particularly if you currently have minor children and want to name a specific guardian for them. After all, would you really want the state of California deciding who will raise your children? Further, while you almost certainly have specific ideas regarding how you would want to provide for your loved ones after your death, the court could direct your assets elsewhere without an estate plan in place.
- Allows you to make your wishes clear. We’ve all heard about family members arguing over assets following the death of a loved one. In some cases, family members who loved and cared about one another prior to the death end up never speaking to one another again simply because they had different ideas regarding which assets the deceased wanted to go to whom. Having an estate plan in place can help avoid anger, heartache and confusion and can alleviate the need for family members to make tough decisions during an already difficult time.
- Minimizes expenses. If you do not have an estate plan you might be dismayed to find that a significant portion of your estate will end up going to costs associated with probate, including the distribution of your property, the payment of your bills and taxes, the guardianship of your children and the dissolution of your business. This is money your loved ones could have potentially used for necessary living expenses.
- Prevents long wait times before family members receive their inheritance. For most of us, those we will leave behind probably really need the money and assets we leave to pay for a funeral and to pay regular monthly bills. When there is no estate plan in place, getting the money and assets to loved ones can take as long as a year. Comprehensive estate planning allows you avoid the type of delays that can really take a financial toll on your family.
- Saves your family from having to make difficult decisions. If you have a comprehensive estate plan in place, it will include an advanced health care directive which leaves specific instructions on what you want to happen in the event you become incapacitated. This can truly ease the burden on your loved ones, preventing them from having to make heartbreaking decisions.
- Reduces taxes. Although the state of California does not currently tax estates or the inheritors, there are federal tax issues related to estates and inheritances. Remember—every single dollar paid in taxes to the government is one less dollar your family will receive. An estate plan can offer numerous tax reduction strategies which will allow you to keep as much as your hard-earned money as possible for your family members.
- Makes retirement easier. Careful estate planning can benefit you while you are alive, as well as benefitting your family after you are gone by ensuring you are eligible for Medicare benefits—which you have likely been paying into most of your working life.
- Ensures your business will continue to run smoothly after your death. If you are a small business owner, one of the most important things you can do for the future of your business is to have an experienced estate planning attorney draft a comprehensive estate plan on your behalf. If you neglect to do this, a business you worked hard for may fall apart quickly following your death, rather than having an orderly transition to the person of your choice.
Problems Often Encountered in Estate Planning
Unfortunately, those who attempt to engage in estate planning on their own, without benefit of a knowledgeable Sonoma estate planning lawyer, can inadvertently make mistakes. These mistakes can be costly, as well as hard on your loved ones. Some of the problems often seen in estate planning include:
- Using jointly-held property improperly. Jointly-held property is sometimes known as a “poor mans will,” because essentially, jointly titling all marital assets allows those assets to go to the surviving spouse without the necessity of probate. Unfortunately, jointly-held property can sometimes become a nightmare due to unexpected taxes. Further, the surviving spouse can give away, or upon his or her death can leave formerly jointly-owned property to anyone he or she chooses, regardless of your wishes.
- Lack of or improper use of life insurance. You may have inadequate life insurance, particularly if you are the primary breadwinner. You may also have neglected to name a backup beneficiary or, for younger beneficiaries, you may have failed to put the life insurance proceeds into a trust until they reach an age of reason. These mistakes can potentially be serious, and are issues you need to speak to your estate planning attorney about.
- Choosing an executor based on emotion rather than solid reasoning. Often an executor is chosen simply by virtue of being the oldest child, or the only male (or female) child. While this may be done to avoid hurt feelings, the executor of a will has a serious job to do and should be up to the challenge. Choose the best person for the job, not the person you feel pressured to choose for one reason or another.
- Making errors in your will or other estate planning document. Many people feel they can simply download a form from the internet and create their will—and, in fact, you could do this. Whether you should do this is an entirely different manner. If you have no mechanical skills, would you attempt to replace your transmission? If you have no surgical skills, would you attempt to operate on your own knee—or that of a loved one? In other words, if you want to ensure your estate plan is properly put together, that it is the very best estate plan for you, and that it is legally correct, you need a professional—an experienced estate planning attorney. Very simple mistakes can turn costly after your death, causing significant problems for your loved ones.
There are many, many more mistakes which you could inadvertently make should you choose to prepare your estate plan on your own. These mistakes cannot be eliminated if they cannot be identified. Having a knowledgeable estate planning attorney from the Gullotta Law Group ensures you will have no mistakes in your estate plan, therefore will not have to identify them.
How a California Estate Planning Attorney Can Be Beneficial
There are scores of reasons you could benefit from speaking to an experienced Sonoma estate planning attorney regarding your goals for the future. Some of the best reasons for having a knowledgeable estate planning attorney prepare your estate planning documents include the following:
- The process can be complex—Estate planning can be difficult, particularly when you consider that one phrase or even one word could potentially undo the entire plan. Add in the fact that California—as well as the federal government—is constantly changing estate planning laws, and you can see that it is practically a full-time job to learn the rules then to keep up with the changes.
- Having an estate plan in place will save you money in the long run—Many people balk at paying for an estate planning attorney, however if you do not have a properly prepared, legally binding estate plan, your estate could end up paying much more in professional fees, court costs and taxes. An experienced California estate planning attorney knows where to look and what questions to ask to ensure you benefit from every possible tax and financial benefits.
- Having an estate plan can protect your assets—There are a number of ways your estate planning attorney can help you best protect your assets, ensuring those assets will benefit you during your life and will benefit your loved ones when your life is over. Do not discount this very important ability of your estate planning attorney.
- Should you become incapacitated without an estate plan in place, there could be end-of-life decisions made on your behalf that you would not want—As part of your estate plan, you will want to have an advanced health care directive which names a trusted person to follow your wishes regarding decisions which might need to be made if you were incapacitated, or end-of-life decisions.
- You need more than just a will—Many people think they can dash off a simple will, and their estate planning worries are over. An estate plan is so much more than a will, rather it is a set of legal documents which prepare for your death or disability. In actuality, there are at least six necessary estate planning documents which make up a comprehensive estate plan.
- You have just one chance to get it right—There are no second chances with your estate plan if you do not realize your DIY attempt will likely cause more problems than it solves. If something should happen to you before you come to that realization, it is simply to late.
- Your estate planning attorney is objective while you are probably not—Estate planning lawyers offer a level of objectivity you simply cannot have about your own affairs, offering direct, unbiased, knowledgeable advice.
- Your estate planning attorney can keep up with the changes in your life—Whether you add a child to your family, marry, divorce, or experience any number of other life changes, your estate plan must adapt. Perhaps you start your own business—or sell the one you have. Perhaps your financial situation changes significantly. Life happens, and after making the decision to have an estate plan, you want to ensure that plan accurately reflects your changing life.
How the Gullotta Law Group Can Help with All Your Estate Planning Needs
The lawyers at the Gullotta Law Group have fifteen years of experience in the field of estate planning. In fact, we have been featured in the media for our trusted legal opinions regarding estate planning, and we are proud of the high recommendations from past and current clients. We offer friendly and attentive staff, and simple, flat-rate fees for all your estate planning needs. When it comes to your future, it is simply never too soon to begin estate planning, no matter your age. At the Gullotta Law Group, our highly experienced Sonoma County estate planning lawyers help individuals plan for the future.
We want to ensure that should the unexpected happen, you have a plan in place. Our underlying goal is to create a comprehensive estate plan based on your unique circumstances and needs. When it comes to ensuring your wishes are fulfilled and your assets are properly protected, you could not choose a better estate planning law firm. Attorney Eric Gullotta is a former CPA who holds a master’s degree in taxation. Using his unique insights, attorney Gullotta works closely with his clients to develop thorough, accurate, individualized estate plans. Contact the Gullotta Law Group today for assistance in estate planning.