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Preserve Family Harmony
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” - Leo Tolstoy
It is all too commonplace to hear about families imploding following the death and/or incapacity of a loved one. And, while I truly believe that grief, not greed, is the real culprit—there is no avoiding the fact that parents are anxious that their deaths will cause upheaval, to say the least, amongst their children. This fact is often compounded and worsened in blended families.
Death and incapacity are difficult enough. By communicating your wishes to your loved ones, you can avoid the unnecessary grief. Talking and letter writing are important parts of communicating your wishes. However, those communications are not legally binding and, moreover, you’ll find that if you speak your wishes to say five (5) people, you’ll find five (5) different understandings of that communication. This is why you must, in addition to talking with to and writing to your loved ones, execute a comprehensive estate plan.
While some people are surprised to hear that a Last Will and Testament is not enough to shield their family from a court proceeding known as Probate or Succession; more often than not people, I meet, have a horror story about a Succession or Probate proceeding “gone bad”.
The word probate means prove the Will. On its own, your Will has zero binding authority. A judge must probate or prove the Will in a court proceeding. In Louisiana, we call the court proceeding a Succession. If you die with assets titled in your name, regardless of whether you have a properly drafted Last Will and Testament not, a court proceeding will be required to get those assets to your heirs.
Know that there are assets that by their very nature avoid probate. The big four “non-probate” assets that you may own are: 401ks, IRAs, life insurance, and annuities. These specific items allow you to have beneficiary designations. Be sure that your beneficiary designations are current and correct.
Family harmony can be preserved through estate planning. You can avoid Succession (probate), and streamline post-mortem distributions. A properly funded Living Trust will allow your trusted loved ones immediate access to your assets.
You can make certain that your loved ones don’t need to hire a lawyer and go to court to get that which you want them to have after you’re gone—thereby saving them the costs, delays, and grief so often associated with a probate proceeding. It is not a matter of: if. It is a matter of: when. Speak with an estate planning specialist, then execute documents to make your decisions binding.