“Trick or treat” rings out every Halloween as children go door to door hoping for their favorite candy. My kids love sorting the candy at the end of the night and finding surprises in their candy haul.
Part of the fun and excitement of trick or treating is the uncertainty —you don’t know what you are going to get. Dying without estate planning is a lot like trick or treat for your surviving family members—no one knows what they are going to get.
If you die without advance planning, any property you own (your estate) will likely end up in Probate Court. An Administrator will be appointed by the Court. Usually, a family member will file a petition asking to be appointed the Administrator of the estate. The Court will require that all of your heirs be notified and that a notice is published in the newspaper alerting creditors that they can file a claim against your estate to recover any debts they claim you owed. If any of these heirs believe that they are better suited to be Administrator, they can object to the petition. Eventually, the Court will either grant the petition or appoint another person to be the Administrator.
Whether your estate is large or small, planning ahead lets you control costs and take the uncertainty out of the process for your family. Planning that includes a will or living trust allows you to appoint the right person to handle your estate and to pay that person as much or as little as you think is right. You can designate the right people to be guardians for your minor children. You can make sure your possessions go to the right people—the people who will truly appreciate them.
Uncertainty is fun and exciting at Halloween but excitement and uncertainty are not so fun for your heirs during a time when they are grieving. Make sure your family doesn’t look back on the administration of your estate and think, like Charlie Brown at Halloween, “I got a rock.”
James M. Miskell received his law degree from the University of Georgia in 1993. His Asset Protection, Estate Planning, and Elder Law practice have offices located in Lawrenceville and Johns Creek. He offers educational workshops and free consultations to assist clients as well as fellow professionals in creating individualized solutions. Visit his website: www.LetsTalkEstatePlanning.com. For more information, see his ad in this issue.