If death and taxes are truly the only things you can’t avoid, then it should make good sense to assume that everyone has a will or estate plan in place. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth. A recent (2021) Gallup Poll found that 54% of Americans have no formal will in place to outline their wishes in the event of their death. A will, drawn up by a trusted legal professional, can do a lot more than decide who gets your money when you are gone. As an attorney with over 17 years of helping people in Acadiana put together a plan for their future, I strongly encourage anyone considering an estate plan to do so. Here’s how it can help you, and how it can’t.
Property & Assets
When most people think of a will or estate plan, this is the part they are usually thinking about. The person or people that you designate as your beneficiaries in a will can gain immediate access with no red tape to anything of value that you leave behind. Whether it’s a prized possession with no real material value like family heirlooms passed down through generations or the deceased’s home and all of its contents, having a written plan can give your family comfort and peace in the difficult time following a death by allowing them to focus on the memory of their loved one instead of the difficult job of distributing that person’s money or things.
Executor of Your Estate
In addition to material goods, a legal will can protect your wishes and directives after your passing. You can have a say so in how your debts are managed, how your taxes will be taken care of, and of course how your assets that I mentioned earlier should be issued out. It is important to choose a close and trusted individual as the executor of your estate, no matter your net worth. To sum it up succinctly, if you don’t put someone in charge of carrying out your wishes, the court system will take over, and it rarely ends in a favorable manner for anyone. A will establishes an executor who will then be responsible for managing the directives of the will.
Children & Pets
An often overlooked part of why everyone should have a will, this one is the most important of all. A will is not just for assets, but it is also a vehicle for the court system to know your wishes for the continued care and financial protection of your children and even your animals or pets. The mostly Catholic tradition of naming “godparents” is not legally binding in the state of Louisiana without a written will. You need a legal document in place that will officially name a guardian and a trustee for your children in the event of your death. If you get a last will & testament for no other reason than to keep your children’s lives out of the hands of the court, then you will have made the right decision.
What A Will Does Not Cover
Conversely, there are a handful of things that a will does not legally cover. Life insurance, IRA, or 401(k) policies for which you have already named a beneficiary are chief amongst them. When you take out any sort of separate policy or account, the beneficiary of those accounts, once named, will trump anything written in your will, so keep in mind the importance of updating those beneficiaries on each different policy or money market account you may have.
Assets you own jointly with another person cannot be issued to anyone else but that person in the event of your death. This rule, called “right of survivorship” ensures a smooth transition of assets to the co-owner, including real estate, automobiles, bank accounts and securities that are co-owned.
Living trusts are also excluded from the legal power of a will. These are typically distributed according to the language of the living trust, regardless of the contents of your will.
It’s not too late to make your New Year’s resolution. Our law office can help you quickly and affordably lay out a plan that will give you and your loved ones peace of mind. Call The Law Office of Stephen Gaubert, where you will speak directly to me. We are a small, customer-service oriented law office with decades of experience helping people put together a plan for their future.