The Good News provides a monthly column with important content having to do with topics from the legal community. We hope our readers enjoy the perspective offered. This month’s legal opinion is provided by Christine Yates, a director with Tripp Scott.
Ask Bill: Do I really need a will? Even if I don’t have a lot of money or assets?
Christine Yates: Of course you don’t need a will. But for sure, you need a plan. And that plan by necessity, for the sake of those you leave behind, includes a will. No matter what stage of life you’re in, your financial circumstances or your family situation, you’ll want to both ensure that you and your loved ones are taken care of and minimize the pain and hassle for those you leave behind.
This kind of smart preparation incorporates financial planning, retirement planning, and estate planning. Also, this is not just for people with a lot of money or assets or people who are older. In fact, smart preparation should start in your early adulthood.
Ask Bill: What kind of plan do I need starting out?
Yates: In early adulthood, you’re establishing yourself – maybe in your first real job. You’re already beginning to accumulate assets – maybe a car, furniture and furnishings, and other kinds of belongings.
Though it seems far off, now is the time to start setting aside for retirement, as the power of compound interest and market growth turns small accounts into million-dollar-plus portfolios down the road. You may also want to pay off debt or start saving for a home of your own – or even buy a starter property. A trusted financial advisor can help you balance these goals.
It may seem unlikely, but something could happen to you, and as you do this financial and early retirement planning, you’ll want to think about who will benefit from and control these assets if something goes wrong. You will want to consider who would have responsibility for the very difficult decisions about your care and other concerns (including life or death ones) if you are somehow incapacitated.
Whoever this trusted person is, you’ll want to make everything as easy as possible by being as specific as you can and keeping a list of financial accounts and belongings you have.
Some assets can be held jointly or pass to a beneficiary, but it’s best to have a will and a living will to be sure. And the good news is that with fewer and less complicated assets, it’s easier and less expensive to set up these instruments.
A caution here: be careful about will forms or kits even with simple estates. You’ll need to make sure you’re asking all the right questions – and all legal requirements are fulfilled.
Just for example: under Florida law, you your will may need to be “self-proved” with an affidavit signed by the testator (that’s you) before a notary. Otherwise, its validity must be proved in court (which can be a pain). A small estate with no real property might also be disposed of without administration – but again, that’s a judgment that should be considered with professional legal help.
Ask Bill: What’s the next life stage and plan?
Yates: When you’re at an accumulation stage, you’ll likely be making major decisions involving more assets and more loved ones depending on you.
You’ve “acquired” a spouse whom you’ll now want to be making those life-or-death decisions and controlling and benefiting from anything you’ve left behind. You may have children. You’re more likely to own a home, more and nicer personal belongings, and (if you’ve been smart) a more complex portfolio, which you’ll want to be managed to maximize income and minimize any taxation and provide for big life expenses like a bigger home, college educations, weddings, and of course, that comfortable retirement.
Your estate planning must handle all this property to protect your spouse and any children and meet those needs – as well as the most unthinkable possibility, that something happens to you and your spouse and your children are left with someone you trust with sufficient assets that are properly directed to provide for their well-being and education.
Your financial and legal plans and instruments should evolve to accommodate all those possibilities, including trusts to protect your children.
Ask Bill: What about later in life?
Yates: As you near and enter retirement and begin disbursing assets, planning becomes even more important. An elder law specialist can pull together the proper legal package and documents (such as power of attorney) while you still have the capacity to make decisions about your care, where you will live and how your assets are invested to provide for yourself and your spouse. And most important, who will have power of attorney to make these decisions as your cognitive abilities decline.
Ask Bill: Wow. That’s a lot to think about.
Yates: Which is why you have to start thinking about it now if you haven’t already, and consult both financial and legal planning specialists you can trust. You can’t know what tomorrow may bring, but you can know you have prepared.
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Read more Ask Bill at: https://www.goodnewsfl.org/author/william-c-davell/
William “Bill” C. Davell, Esq., is a director with Tripp Scott, PA.