Legacy refers to money or assets left to someone in a will, but it also means the long lasting impacts of someone’s life. We spend so much of our lives in the pursuit of goals, working hard to provide for ourselves and our loved ones—forging a legacy. In the act of striving to acquire financial stability, hitting those business and professional goals, and providing for family, we forget that someday it’ll all be gone and only our legacy, both assets and impact, will be all that remains. That’s why we do estate planning, to make all the striving worth something for those who come after us.
Estate planning is just that, a plan for what happens to all that you’ve worked for when you pass away. Here are a few reasons legacy creation is imperative.
1. Avoid Probate
Probate is the legal process whereby courts oversee the administration and distribution of your estate. Probate can last anywhere from 9 to 18 months if uncontested and longer if litigated. It costs thousands of dollars and can cause tremendous emotional strain on families. The process requires the appointment of a Personal Representative which can be contentious and ultimately a third party (someone other than family) can be appointed to administer the estate. Cases are also public on the Wisconsin Circuit Court system (CCAP). This means anyone who wants to see what you were worth or what you had can find that out with a simple, free search.
You can avoid all of that by having an estate plan that avoids probate; saving your loved ones from the emotional, time consuming, and costly process. It also allows you to name who you want to be in charge of distributing and/or managing your assets rather than having the Court grant appointment of a Personal Representative. This affords you privacy and saves time and money, getting your assets to your chosen beneficiaries faster.
2. Control Who gets Your Assets
If someone dies without a will, they die Intestate. This fancy word simply means then the laws of the State of Wisconsin, or whichever state you reside in, then define who gets what. The process is based on heirship and has a strict formula.
First to spouse, then kids.
If no spouse or kids, to living parents.
If no living parents, then siblings and down the line.
There are additional complications for non-traditional families such as those that are second marriages or involve kids from prior marriages. The law does not provide room for any familial ambiguity, that is to say, whether certain family members are estranged, hated, or beloved doesn’t matter. If there are other important family members or friends who you’d like to leave things to, without an estate plan you simply cannot.
Having an estate plan allows you to leave assets to anyone you want. Certain planning techniques, like the Revocable Trust, allows you tremendous creativity and control as to who you leave things to and at what ages they receive assets. It evens allows you to plan for your future grandchildren. Unfortunately, dying instate or intestacy often means people’s assets that they worked so hard to acquire go to people they wouldn’t have chosen. Good planning can avoid that.
3. Peace of mind
Having a comprehensive estate plan can provide you and your loved ones with peace of mind knowing that if something should happen, there are plans in place. As we know, the probate process is not advisable, especially while mourning a loss. This is the last time you want people making life altering decisions. Ultimately, estate planning is a gift to your family, easing their burden during a difficult time and future worry.
An estate plan also includes Financial and Healthcare Power of Attorney documents which are used while you’re alive if you should become incapacitated. These documents allow someone to step in and assist with healthcare decision making and managing finances. This can ensure that bills and expenses are handled should something happen to you. If you are unable to make medical decisions and don’t have a Power of Attorney in place, sometimes the Court has to be involved to appoint a Guardian to make decisions for you. This is another costly and emotionally difficult situation for your family and loved ones that planning can avoid.
A comprehensive estate plan, including Power of Attorney documents, allows for you and your loved ones to know that whether it is death or incapacity, things are taken care of. It provides a framework and structure during an otherwise challenging period.
Legacy is about who we are and what we are leaving behind. Estate planning is a tool to help give our histories shape, to avoid legal burdens on our loved ones, and to ease worry. We understand the process can be a bit daunting and are here to help. Reach out for a free consultation with Cooper on our team whenever you want. She makes the entire process of establishing your legacy as simple as possible for you.