Did you know that if you don’t have a will and something were to happen to you, your parents or infant children could end up with part of your estate, even while your surviving spouse struggles to make ends meet? Do you know who you would want to look after your children if something happened to both you and your spouse at the same time? Do you know how long it would take if your surviving spouse wanted to sell a house or car that was in your name, or jointly owned?
Estate planning is something most people know they’ll need eventually, but tend to put off, especially if they think they don’t have much. The process is far easier than many people realize and spending less than two hours now can provide security that lasts indefinitely. This article is designed to shed some light on what estate planning involves and who should be thinking about it by answering some common questions.
Do I need a will?
Many people don’t think they need a will. Two of the most common misconceptions attorneys hear are “I don’t really have much, so I don’t need a will” and “everything will go to my spouse anyway.” Both of these statements are untrue and it could be damaging to make those assumptions.
Even if your only assets are your home and your car, having a will makes transferring those assets through Probate much easier. The time it takes to get through probate can be months at best and years at worst. Having a clear and valid Will can dramatically reduce the time until an estate is closed and make the process much easier for a family that is already grieving a loss.
Estate planning can sometimes be an uncomfortable topic to discuss, but the importance cannot be understated. A little bit of discussion now is much easier than trying to piece things together after something unexpected happens and it is too late.
What happens to your assets without a will?
If someone passes without a will, the laws of the State of Connecticut dictates how that person’s estate is handled. This is called “Intestacy.” Intestacy laws are well-meaning and designed to provide the most general benefit to the largest number of people. However, estate planning is intensely personal and it cannot be approached with a “one size fits all” solution. In fact, it would be very rare that any individual would consciously choose to make their estate plan look like the State of Connecticut’s solution.
One example that regularly surprises clients would be the fact that if a married individual passes without a will and the couple had no children, part of their estate would go to their spouse but a sizeable part of their estate could go to the deceased person’s parents too, no matter how old the deceased was. Similarly, if a married individual were to pass without a will and they had a young child, rather than everything going to the surviving spouse, part of their estate could pass directly to the child, even if that child were an infant. For more specific information on both of these scenarios, please see Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 45a-437.
In order to properly close an estate, the process can take up to a year or even longer. During that time, access to assets can be restricted. With some advanced planning, you can ensure that certain assets are not part of the probate process and you can ensure that there is enough money readily available for your loved ones to continue their day to day lives in the short term.
Who gets custody of your children without a will?
Child custody is a complex issue where the best interests of the child are put above all else. If both parents were to pass simultaneously, the Probate Court would have to determine guardianship. While naming a guardian in your will does not guarantee a particular outcome, it is extremely influential in guiding the Probate Court. Without a named guardian in a valid will, the Court will have to make an uneducated determination, which may result in a protracted custody battle between the family members that are left behind.
Can I make my own will?
In theory, you could attempt to make a will without the assistance of an attorney, or with a cheap online form. Simply put, that is a terrible idea and there are several reasons why:
First and most importantly, in order for a will to be valid, there are strict requirements that must be met. If a will is improperly drafted or improperly executed and it is deemed invalid, then your estate is treated as if there was no will at all. The purpose of estate planning is to protect your loved ones after you are gone and giving it anything short of professional attention and advice could negatively impact your family.
Second, when you use websites or online services and call them with questions, you are calling their customer service department, not a licensed Connecticut attorney and you are put into a phone menu where your calls “may be monitored or recorded for quality assurance.” When you call our office, you will get to talk to the attorney who is going to sit down with you face to face and draft your documents.
Our basic estate planning package is priced comparably to the online forms, but it comes with far more than a document and a call center. In addition to our years of experience and expertise, it comes with a relationship. We don’t want to just draft your will for you, we want to be your family’s attorney. We want to be the first phone call you make for any legal questions you have or legal needs that arise throughout your life. We value the long term relationships we have with our clients.
What do I have to do to set up my estate plan?
The process is fairly simple. We will send you a questionnaire where you can list your basic information, then we schedule a face to face meeting. At that first meeting, we discuss what your estate looks like, what your wishes are and answer any questions you may have. This typically takes 30-60 minutes. Next, we draft all of your documents according to what we discussed and then there is a second meeting where we review the final documents and sign them. The second meeting also takes about 30-60 minutes. Throughout the entire process, we will always be available to answer questions and provide more information. At the end of the second meeting, you walk away with all your estate planning documents and peace of mind.
Our basic estate planning package for individuals and couples includes a will for each person, but it also includes several other documents most people don’t think about. We provide a living will, which allows you to dictate your wishes regarding life support. We also provide a Medical Power of Attorney, which appoints someone to make your medical decisions in the event you are unable to communicate your wishes. Finally, we also include a Durable Power of Attorney, which allows you to appoint someone to take a variety of actions on your behalf, even if you become incapacitated.
We are here to ensure that your wishes are carried out.
Every family is unique. Every estate plan is unique. At Yorio Law Group, P.C. we would love the opportunity to learn about the uniqueness of your family and help you decide on the best plan for you and your loved ones. Our basic estate planning package is a flat-fee, so there will be no surprises, and it includes a will, medical power of attorney, living will and an optional durable power of attorney. Please call our office if you would like additional information, or to set up an appointment.