The attorneys at GillespieShields practice family, employment, civil, criminal, and immigration law.
Many people incorrectly believe that they do not have an estate. The truth is that if you own anything, you have an estate. Although estate planning is worth the investment of time and resources, many don’t do it because they think they aren’t rich enough or they simply don’t know how it would benefit them.
What is an Estate?
An estate is simply all the assets and stuff that you own, including financial accounts, vehicles, real estate, insurance policies, business ownership interests, and personal property. Regardless of whether the total value of your assets are small or large, your assets need to be managed during your life and after your death.
Many people use the services of accountants, financial planners, investment managers, and attorneys to provide advice and assistance in estate management, whether such people own assets worth several hundred thousand dollars or billions of dollars. The overwhelming majority of people, however, have modest estates and, for the most part, manage their own assets during their lifetimes. Death is an inevitable fact of life for everyone regardless of their wealth or lack thereof. Legal assistance with estate management is not just a privilege for the wealthy, but is also available and worthwhile for ordinary people.
Do You Need Estate Planning?
If you become physically or mentally unable to manage your estate during your lifetime, other people will need to make financial decisions and manage your estate on your behalf. If you do not designate a trusted person to make these decisions in a valid legal document prior to your incapacity, your spouse, a family member, a friend, or the state may need to request a judge to appoint a guardian or conservator to make such decisions.
Acquisition of guardianship or conservatorship can be expensive, time consuming, and unpredictable. Additionally, people in need of guardians and/or conservators are usually susceptible to undue influence or exploitation and at risk unless and until a guardian or conservator is appointed.
When you die, you most likely will leave behind not only an estate, but also unresolved commitments such as outstanding debts, unfiled or unpaid taxes, and the placement of and care for minor children left without a parent (if this is applicable to you). Surprisingly, you may even have the right to file a lawsuit against a health care provider, caregiver, debtor, or other person who injured/damaged you or your estate prior to your death.
Very little needs to be done if you die with few assets and no outstanding obligations; however, if you own assets or have personal affairs that require resolution, someone with legitimate legal authority to act on behalf of your estate will most likely need to take care of your commitments and distribute your estate in compliance with probate law.