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What Your Last Will & Testament Will (and Will Not Do) - Part 1

August 24, 2022 •  Legacy Law LLC
August is “National Make-A-Will Month,” and if you have already prepared your will, congratulations—too few Americans have taken this key first step in the estate planning process. In fact, only 33% of Americans have created their will, according to Caring.com’s 2022 Wills and Estate Planning Study.  Yet, while having a will is important—and all adults […]

August is “National Make-A-Will Month,” and if you have already prepared your will, congratulations—too few Americans have taken this key first step in the estate planning process. In fact, only 33% of Americans have created their will, according to Caring.com’s 2022 Wills and Estate Planning Study

Yet, while having a will is important—and all adults over age 18 should have this document in place—for all but a few people, creating a will is just one small part of an effective estate plan that works to keep your loved ones out of court and out of conflict. With this in mind, here we look at exactly what having a will in place will—and will not—do for you and your loved ones in terms of estate planning.

If you have yet to create your will, or you haven’t reviewed your existing will recently, contact us, your Personal Family Lawyer® to get this vital first step in your estate planning handled right away.

What A Will Does

A will is a legal document that outlines your final wishes in regards to how your assets are distributed to your surviving family members. Here are some of the things having a will in place allows you to do:

1. Choose how assets are divided upon your death: A will's primary purpose is to allow you to designate how you want your assets divided among your surviving loved ones upon your death. If you die without a will, state law governs how your assets are distributed, which may or may not be in line with your wishes.

However, as we’ll discuss more below, a will only allows you to provide for the distribution of certain types of assets—namely, a will only covers assets owned solely in your name. Other types of assets, such as those with a beneficiary designation and assets co-owned by you with others, are not affected by your will.

2. Name an executor: In your will, you can name the person, or persons, you want to serve as your executor, sometimes called a “personal representative.” Following your death, your executor is responsible for wrapping up your final affairs. This includes numerous responsibilities, including filing your will with the local probate court, locating and managing all of your assets, paying off any debts you have outstanding, filing and paying your final income taxes, and finally, distributing your remaining assets to your named beneficiaries.

3. Name guardians for your minor children: If you are the parent of minor children, it is possible to name legal guardians for them in your will. However, naming guardians for your children in your will alone is seriously risky, and doing so may even leave your kids vulnerable to being taken into the care of strangers if something happens to you. And this is true even if you’ve worked with another lawyer to create your will, because most lawyers haven’t studied and been trained on  what’s necessary for ensuring the well-being and care of minor children.

Fortunately, whether you’ve named guardians for your kids in your will or have yet to take any action at all, you’ve come to the right place. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we have been trained by the author of the best-selling book, Wear Clean Underwear!: A Fast, Fun, Friendly, and Essential Guide to Legal Planning for Busy Parents, on legal planning for the unique needs of families with minor children. 

As a result of this training, we offer a comprehensive system known as the Kids Protection Plan®, which is included with every estate plan we prepare for families with young children. While you should meet with us to put the full Kids Protection Plan® in place as soon as possible, protecting your children is such a critical and urgent issue, we’ve created a totally free website, where you can get your plan started right now.

After you’ve completed those initial actions, schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session with us, so we can put the full Kids Protection Plan® in place, and determine if there is anything else your family might need to ensure the well-being and care of your children.

⇒ If you have already named long-term guardians in your will—either on your own or with a lawyer—we can review your existing legal documents to see whether you have made any of the six common mistakes that could leave your kids at risk. From there, we will revise your plan to ensure your children are fully protected.

4. Serve as a backup for a living trust: Because it can be difficult to transfer the legal title to every single one of your assets into a revocable living trust before your death, most trusts are combined with what’s known as a “pour-over” will. This type of will serves as a backup to a living trust, so all assets not held by the trust upon your death are transferred, or “poured,” into your trust through the probate process.

A Small—But Important—First Step
As you can see here, having a will in place only gives you a limited amount of power over the distribution of certain assets, but that doesn’t mean you should go without one. Without a will, you would have no say in who inherits your assets when you die, and everything you own could even go to the state.

But worse than that, your surviving loved ones will be the ones who have to clean up the mess you’ve left behind. And they will have to handle all of this while grieving your death. Instead, you should see your will as an important first step in the estate planning process—one that works best when integrated with a variety of other legal vehicles, such as trusts, powers of attorney, and advance healthcare directives.

Next week, in part 2, we’ll detail all of the things that your will does not do, and then we’ll outline the different estate planning tools that you should have in place to make up for these potential blind spots in your estate plan. Until then, if you need to get your estate planning started or you would like us to review your existing estate plan (even one created by another lawyer) to see if you are missing anything, contact us at Legacy Law. 

This article is a service of Bethany Gilson Casey, Personal Family Lawyer®. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

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Bethany was amazing very helpful and kind. Made me feel very comfortable in a rough situation. Made sure I got what I wanted set up and took care of me and my family. Awesome job. I recommend her 100%.
Cari Covolo
December 22, 2021.
Bethany was professional, very knowledgeable, personable, and easy to work with. She made the daunting task of setting up a will easy and seamless.
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Bethany was great! She explained the details of probate and how it works in detail. Our purpose was to protect our children in the untimely event of both of us passing at the same time. The estate planning put our minds at ease. She encourages us to follow up with her periodically and make sure everything is still in order. This impressed us, she cares.
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I was pretty nervous/unsure about needing a will/ trust and decided to explore my options. I found an introductory video on-line from Legacy Law. From there I set up a meeting with Bethany and went in with a boatload of questions. My questions were answered patiently and with great expertise. I never felt pressured and came out feeling reassured and comfortable with my choices/decisions. This was all done professionally and in a very timely manner. To this day, if I have a question all I have to do is give Bethany or Brynn a call. It is without hesitation that I recommend Legacy Law and their services.
Patsy Christensen
August 31, 2021.
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Bethany was great! Very professional and personal. She was always able and willing to answer our questions and come up with the best solution for our needs. I highly recommend her for estate planning and to navigate all the legal intricacies related to that.
Jeff Wilson
August 20, 2021.
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August 3, 2021.
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