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Here’s Why You Need a Will

Many celebrities die without wills. This past year saw a host of celebrity estate snafus. It’s as if they were sending a message from beyond that they didn’t care about how much turmoil and family fights would take place over their money and assets. Some of these battles go on for decades. However, as reported in Press Republican’s article “The Law and You: Important to make a will,” even if you think you don’t have enough property to make it necessary to have a will, you’re wrong. It’s not just wealthy or famous people who need wills.

Do you really want other people making those decisions on your behalf? Would you want the laws of your state making these decisions? Your family will do better, if you have a will and an estate plan.

For example, in New York State, if you don’t have a will, your surviving spouse will receive the first $50,000 plus one half of remaining property. Your children, whether they are minors or adults, will get an equal share of the other half.

If you have a spouse but no children, your spouse will inherit everything. If you have children and no spouse, then the children get everything, divided equally.

If you have no spouse, no children and living parents, then your parents will inherit everything you own.

If your parents are not alive, your siblings will get it all.

Adopted children are treated by the courts the same as biological children, when there is no will. Stepchildren and foster children do not inherit, unless they are specifically named in the will.

If you have been in a long-term relationship with someone and never married, even if they qualify for health care benefits from your employer under the “domestic partner” provision, they are not considered a spouse when it comes to inheritance. At the same time, if you are not legally married and your partner dies, you have no legal right to inherit from your partner’s estate. No matter how long you have been together, how many children you have together, if you are not legally married, you have no inheritance rights.

Check your state’s laws for the rights of “common law marriages;” New York State does not recognize these as a legal union. In very limited cases, New York State has been known to recognize common law marriages from other states where they are legal, but that is the exception and not the rule. There are limits here as well: both parties will have to agree to be married, must represent to others that they are married and may not be married to anyone else.

If you want someone who is not your legal spouse to receive your assets, you need to meet with an estate planning attorney and have a will drawn up that meets the requirements of the laws of your state. An estate planning attorney will be able to explain how your state laws work and what provisions are and are not acceptable in your estate.

An estate planning attorney will also help you consider other issues. Do you want to leave anything to a charity that matters to you? Do you want anyone else besides your children to receive something after you pass? Is there anyone who needs a trust, because they are unable to manage their finances, or you are concerned about their marriage ending in divorce? Making these decisions in a properly prepared will, can protect your family and lessen the chances of your wishes being challenged.

Reference: Press Republican (Dec. 18, 2018) “The Law and You: Important to make a will”

Do You Know What Would Happen To Your Kids If Something Happened to You?  The answer may surprise you…

This Story Will Break Your Heart.

This Story Will Break Your Heart

CoverIn 2006 Casey and Melanie Barber were on a summer vacation with their three children when their van blew a tire and spun out of control, resulting in a horrifying accident that left Casey and Melanie dead. Miraculously, all three of their boys survived the accident. 

In the aftermath of the accident there was confusion among family members concerning who would care for the children.  Because the Barbers left no clear instructions, this confusion ultimately resulted in a court battle over custody of the boys (and their inheritance) that lasted for more than a year, involved no less than 9 different attorneys, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees and court time.

In the end, the court appointed a legal guardian who may or may not have been the person who Casey and Melanie would have wanted to raise their children.  We’ll never know because they never made their wishes known.

It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way for Your Family

Like many parents with minor children at home, the Barbers didn’t take the time to put an estate plan together that would have protected their children after their accident.  Many parents have so many questions about the estate planning process and feel so overwhelmed by the thought of their children being raised without them that they procrastinate and do nothing at all.

The most important thing that any parent can do is name a guardian for their children.  A guardian is the person who will raise your children if you’re not able to raise them yourself.  Most people don’t realize that if you don’t legally name a guardian to raise your children, then the courts will have to do it for you; and they may not choose the person that you would have wanted. 

Every loving parent understands the need to have a plan in place should something happen to them.  Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misunderstanding surrounding wills, trusts, and the court system.  Getting information about the basics of a good estate plan is the first step.  The second step is to speak with an estate planning attorney about your unique family dynamic and your specific goal of protecting your children.  They should be able to answer your questions, offer advice for how to best protect your children, and craft a plan that meets your needs.

With a god attorney, the process of estate planning shouldn’t be intimidating, difficult or even time consuming.  It should however be a fundamental requirement for every parent.

Take the first step toward insuring that your children will be taken care of, no matter what happens to you!  Download your free copy of A Parent’s Guide to Protecting Your Children Through Estate Planning at www.parents.mastrylaw.com

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