When you make an estate plan, you accomplish much more than just deciding what happens to your property after death. Creating an estate plan is one of the most significant steps you can take to protect your loved ones and yourself in the future. Your plan also makes certain that no matter what happens, your loved ones will know your wishes and be able to abide by them.
If you do not have an estate plan, Kansas law decides what happens to your property after your death. A judge makes decisions for you about management and distribution of your estate, based on Kansas statutes. People you may not want to receive your property may benefit from your estate. Someone you would not want to manage your estate and make distribution decisions might end up doing so.
If you have minor children, your estate plan details who provides for their care if you become unable to do so. If you do not make this designation, your children may get caught up in family disagreements about who makes significant decisions for them and provides guidance for them. The person who ends up caring for them may be someone you don’t want to have that responsibility — and it could even be someone you don’t trust.
In addition, if you die without a valid estate plan in place, loved ones who are not related to you and charities you care about may not receive anything from your estate. The people and causes you really care about may be neglected, all because you did not take the time to make an estate plan.
An unexpected medical emergency or an accident can incapacitate you without warning. If that happens, even temporary incapacity means that someone must make medical and personal decisions for you. Your finances require management as well, to make sure your bills are paid and that other money matters are addressed.
If you don’t have an estate plan, your loved ones likely will have to go to court to get the necessary authority to take care of all these matters. Your family would incur legal costs and consume valuable time when your needs require immediate attention.
Your estate plan includes powers of attorney in which you designate individuals you trust to manage your finances and make decisions about health and medical care, if something happens to you that impairs your own ability to make decisions and take care of routine financial matters. You also can express your wishes about medical care, so your loved ones can make certain that medical professionals abide by your wishes.
For many individuals, asset protection is one of the main goals of estate planning. A carefully structured estate plan can minimize taxes and maximize benefits to your beneficiaries.
You can possibly avoid probate of your estate with a properly developed estate plan. Probate is the court-supervised estate administration process, which may be expensive. Probate makes all the information about your financial matters public information. If you avoid probate, you maintain the privacy of your financial affairs. So avoiding probate is desirable for some individuals and families for these reasons.
Another advantage of avoiding probate is that assets can be distributed to beneficiaries more quickly, since property does not go through the probate process. The shorter distribution period can substantially benefit your beneficiaries. Avoiding probate also may lower the costs of estate administration, which means your beneficiaries receive more of your property.
Estate planning also protects assets in special circumstances, such as planning for long-term care (including Medicaid coverage), providing for a family member with special needs, and protecting assets for a beneficiary who is not financially responsible.
Death and incapacity of a loved one sometimes leads to disagreements among family members. Whether it’s something as simple as who gets a specific family heirloom, or something as significant as who manages an incapacitated loved one’s finances, these disagreements can escalate to the point of ruining lifelong relationships or even resulting in court proceedings.
By making all your own decisions and communicating them to your loved ones through your estate plan, you can avoid family disagreements and disputes to a great degree. If you have a situation that you know might cause problems, your estate planning lawyer can even help you address the issues directly. By preventing family disagreements after your death or incapacity, you help to preserve your family unity and get your loved ones through the emotionally difficult time that follows a family member’s death or incapacity.
Our experienced estate planning attorneys at Sloan Law Firm help clients create a new estate plan or revise an existing estate plan. We handle the full range of matters relating to estate planning, including preparation of Wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and other important estate planning documents. With offices in Topeka and Lawrence, we assist clients throughout Kansas and invite you to contact us by calling (785) 357-6311 or using our online contact form.