This is the fourth in a series of articles on what to expect when you work with your Atlanta estate planning lawyer. Each article will cover several of the topics that you will need to consider to make a plan that works for your needs.
In this series, we have covered estate planning considerations for incapacitation and death, and for the most part, they’ve been the more commonly thought-of items. Yet, there are some other ideas that you will want to discuss with your estate planning lawyer in Atlanta, including:
- Service Providers: In your estate plan, you may want to include a section regarding your service providers. Everything from doctors and dentists to property managers and babysitters could be included here. This gives your loved ones the opportunity to contact these service providers to let them know you won’t be working with them any longer, to clear up any outstanding bills, and to make sure that you don’t continue being billed for a service you no longer use. This might be especially important if you have service providers who are automatically paid from your bank account.
- Memberships: Memberships and subscriptions are an area that is really easy to overlook, and as mentioned above, they can cost your estate! Belonging to a gym, country club, or other kind of organization might call for dues to be taken directly from your bank account, and without knowledge to end your contract, your executor and family members won’t even realize they need to discontinue your memberships or subscriptions.
- Credit Cards and Other Debts: Having a list of credit cards and other debts makes it easier for those left behind to follow up. They’ll want to cancel various accounts, as well as to get totals owed in order to make sure your legal obligations are taken care of before the estate is distributed. Estate planning lawyers in Georgia are familiar with the laws of the state and can guide you on what is expected.
- Keys and Passwords: Most of us have areas in our lives that are somehow secured from others. In the case of your death or incapacitation, you may need to be sure that others have access to these areas. For example, you wouldn’t want to share your online banking password with just anyone, but if someone needs that information to go with their power of attorney, it needs to be accessible. Keys to safe deposit boxes, passwords to accounts, and even the code to your home security system should all be kept somewhere that they can be accessed if necessary.
- Personal Letters: The personal letter part of estate planning is really up to an individual. Some people choose to write special letters that loved ones can keep as mementos. This is a time to share your feelings, offer forgiveness if you haven’t done so in life, or to just let those around you know that you love them.
There are a whole lot of facets to estate planning, and a good estate planning lawyer in Atlanta will be able to help you go over all of these aspects and many more to determine what you need to include in your estate plan.
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An Atlanta will and trust lawyer’s job is to make sure that you have all of your ducks in a row so that if you become incapacitated or die, your loved ones will now how to manage your estate and follow your wishes. Laws in Georgia vary from those found around the country, which is why you want to work with an attorney who is skilled in understanding your specific needs. One area that should be considered is your service providers.
“Service providers” covers a wide range of individuals involved in your life. Should you be unable to communicate with them, you want to ensure that your trustee, executor, guardian, or other responsible person is able to communicate with them on your behalf. Having them all listed in one place will make this job much more manageable.
This list should include all of the people or companies that you deal with when it comes to the maintenance of your home. If you are incapacitated, your home will need to continue to function in your absence, and your representative will need to be able to contact these people to make sure things keep running smoothly. In other cases, whether you are deceased or incapacitated, there are certain services that you may no longer need, and the person in charge needs to be able to contact the service providers and cancel with them.
Some examples of household providers that you will want to list might include:
• Computer support
• Food or water delivery
• House keepers
• Heating/Cooling system maintenance
• Heating oil delivery
• House sitters
• Pest control
• Pool or spa maintenance
• Vehicle maintenance
Basically, anything that you have performed on a regular basis should be noted, along with contact and payment information.
Medical Service Providers
You should also provide your Atlanta will and trust lawyer with contacts for your medical service providers. This information could be very valuable should you need medical attention but be unable to reach out to these providers on your own. Additionally, if you have standing appointments with these providers, it will be helpful to have them canceled so you don’t accrue charges for service you’re not using.
Some of the medical service providers you may want to include on your list are:
• Massage therapist
• Physical therapist
• Primary care physician
Personal Service Providers
There are other types of regular services that you may use, and you’ll want to include these as well for the same reasons already mentioned.
Some personal service providers to keep in mind for inclusion:
• Childcare provider
• Home care provider
• Meal preparation
Along with the contact information for these service providers, it’s a good idea to make notes about when they are expected, and you may even want to include service agreements and contracts. For example, if you have a standing arrangement to have your sprinkler system blown out each fall, make a note of that.
Your Atlanta will and trust lawyer may not include all of this information directly in your estate plan, but he or she will want to be able to make a note of where it can be located when the need arises.
It really does take a village sometimes ….We are happy to consult with your financial planner, accountant, or other professional to make sure you get the best estate plan possible. For more information or help getting started, please feel free to call our office at 770-425-6060 to schedule a complimentary Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session ($750 value) with the mention of this article.
This is the third in a series of articles on what to expect when you work with your Atlanta, Georgia, estate planning lawyer. Each article will cover several of the topics that you will need to consider to make a plan that works for your needs.
In the previous two editions of this series, we looked at some of the items an estate planning lawyer in Atlanta GA will want you to consider in preparing for your incapacitation or death. These are some of the more typical items that you will want to highlight. In addition, of course, your attorney will work with you on how to manage your assets in your estate plan. There are several areas of consideration, some of which will include:
- Retirement Plans and Pensions: Should you pass away, your retirement plan or pension will pay out to your beneficiaries. To ensure that this happens the way you intend, you’ll want to work with your Atlanta estate planning lawyer to determine its value and how you envision it being used. Do you want the money to go directly to your spouse? Will it be used to fund some sort of trust for your children? Perhaps you want to leave it to a nonprofit organization? Each of these choices has different ramifications, and you will need to look into how your retirement plan is set up.
- Insurance: There are so many kinds of insurance policies, but the ones most often thought about during the estate planning process are life insurance and annuities. Again, you will want to determine the beneficiary or beneficiaries of your policy. It’s also a good idea to keep up to date on what your policy offers, as term life policies will expire at a certain age.
- Bank and Other Accounts: As with your retirement and insurance policies, you may choose to name a beneficiary on these accounts. On the other hand, you may choose to have someone who manages the funds for specific purposes. Your Atlanta estate planning lawyer will help you create a list of these accounts with directions on what should happen to them.
- Real Estate: From your personal residence to income property, you need to have a plan in place for what is to become of these assets after your death. There are a variety of tax implications that come with passing on real estate or even selling it, so an Atlanta estate planning lawyer will be able to help you develop a plan that will benefit your estate according to state laws.
- Taxes: As you likely know, there are a variety of taxes that come along with the inheritance process. You may not be aware, however, that there is still a need to pay taxes on assets after your death and before they are bequeathed. Your estate plan needs to be set up in a way that can provide for these taxes. Likewise, your regular income and other taxes will need to be paid up to your death, so having all of your current documents in order will help the executor of your estate to comply with Georgia state and federal laws.
So far, this series of estate planning articles has covered some distinct areas of planning. Our last piece will hold a few tips on other considerations that you may want to keep in mind when working with your estate planning lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia.
For more information or help getting started, please feel free to call our office at 770-425-6060 to schedule a complimentary Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session ($750 value) with the mention of this article.
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One of the advantages of marriage over a cohabiting relationship is that a spouse in a marriage is a legal heir, and has a legal right in Georgia to inherit, with or without a will. The only way cohabitants can inherit in Georgia is through a will or through a living or testamentary trust.
Trusts are rights and properties held by one party for the benefit of another. There are many reasons for a cohabitant to enter into a trust agreement. These include maintaining control over assets, avoiding probate, and avoiding inheritance taxes. A testamentary trust is a trust created by a will or a living or an inter-vivos trust document. A testamentary trust does not have the tax advantages of a living will, but does allow the beneficiary to use the property during his or her lifetime. The remaining principal or corpus would go to a second person after the beneficiary’s death. A living trust is a written agreement in which a trustee agrees to hold assets contributed by the grantor for the benefit of third parties or beneficiaries. In some states, but not all, the trustee, grantor, and initial beneficiary may all be the same person. A will or a testamentary trust becomes effective only upon the death of the testator. However, a living trust becomes effective immediately. As long as a living trust is not irrevocable, it can be amended or revoked at any time, and the grantor retains absolute control over the assets transferred to the trust, if he is the trustee. At the time of the grantor’s death, the living trust either becomes irrevocable or it terminates with the trust assets going to designated beneficiaries, or it continues to stay in existence, with the trustee continuing to hold assets for the benefit of the remaining beneficiaries. It is one way to avoid the expense of probate.
There are both disadvantages and advantages to wills and to living trusts. Some of them are as follows:
• Privacy – A will, when it is probated, becomes public knowledge, as do the assets listed under the will. A living trust, unless there are extraordinary circumstances, never becomes public; thus, neither the assets nor terms of the trust become public record.
• Probate – In order to be enforced, a will must go through a form of probate procedure in the court system for which there are fees, usually based on the size of the estate and possibly on the identification of the beneficiaries if they are minors (since guardians may have to be appointed; however, see below). Beneficiaries normally cannot receive the bulk of the assets until probate is completed, which could take a year or more. With a living trust, probate is avoided, and trust assets are distributed almost immediately by the trustee to the beneficiary.
• Complexity – A living trust agreement is more complex in that the assets, while the grantor is alive, must be transferred to the trustee and held in the name of the trust. The trustee is the one who distributes the assets and income and manages the corpus (the body) of the trust. A will, however, takes effect only upon the testator’s death, and is usually less expensive to draft and to change than a living will. However, as stated above, probate is more expensive to hold property.
Another method of estate planning for cohabitants is through joint tenancy, where title to either real or personal property is held jointly. The joint tenants own equal shares and jointly own the property. Each joint tenant may sell his or her one-half interest. However, when one dies, the remaining owner automatically takes over ownership as a right of survivorship.
Tenancy in common is a way for two or more people to hold property. Each has the right to bequeath or sell his or her share of the property to someone other than the co-owners. It is often also easier to sell an interest as a tenant in common rather than as a joint tenant. At the tenant’s death, his interest passes either through his will, through a living trust, or by intestacy.
Each of these Georgia estate planning techniques should be considered by a cohabitant, in that each has its own pros and cons and every case is different. Having no method of estate planning is a disaster for a cohabitant, because the intestacy laws of Georgia will not allow the cohabitant to receive any of the estate. Thus, it is essential for a couple living together to meet with a Georgia estate planning attorney to discuss estate planning, living wills, and durable springing powers of attorney so that they can fully understand their rights and obligations and can deal with these problems in a way that is suited for their personal needs at a time that is not pressured or emotionally chaotic.
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If you own a car, you know it requires a regular maintenance in order to perform well and be reliable. When you purchased your car, you most likely received a recommended schedule for service. If you follow that schedule, most likely your car will continue to work well. If you don’t follow that schedule, you are taking the chance that your car will let you down.
Did you know that your estate plan also needs to be “serviced” on a regular basis? Your estate plan is a snapshot of your life the way it was at the time it was created. However, over time your family structure, your assets and the tax laws change so you should set a schedule to have your plan reviewed to make sure it doesn’t let you down.
So, when should you have your estate plan serviced? Any change in your personal, family, financial or health situation should prompt you to review your estate plan. But, in general, I recommend that you pick a date that you will remember to review the plan each year. Your cue to remember this might be a birthday or anniversary…just any date that will jog your memory and allow you time to sit and read through your plan.
If you think a change is needed, do not write on your estate plan. You should contact your wills lawyer. Hopefully your attorney operates like us and does not charge for quick questions such as these. You should be able to pick up the phone and speak to your attorney to ask whether your plan needs a tune-up.
You should also make sure that your Marietta GA wills lawyer will review your plan with you at no charge at least every three years. There are some things that might impact your plan that you don’t know about such as changes in federal or state laws.
As a guide, I have given you a few events where you might want to review your plan:
You and Your Spouse
- You marry, divorce or separate
- Your or your spouse’s health declines
- Your spouse dies
- Value of assets changes dramatically
- Change in business interests
- You buy real estate in another state
- Birth or adoption
- Marriage or divorce
- Finances change
- Parent/relative becomes dependent on you
- Minor becomes adult
- Attitude toward you changes
- Health declines
- Family member dies
- Federal or state tax laws change
- You plan to move to a different state
- Your successor trustee, guardian or administrator moves, becomes ill or changes mind
- You change your mind.
I hope that this list gives you an idea of whether you need your plan reviewed. If you are no longer in touch with your Marietta wills lawyer, I welcome you to call our office and let Lynn know that you need an Estate Plan Checkup and I’ll be happy to review it with you at no charge if you mention the KICK THE TIRES post.