Going Beyond the Will: Why You Need More Than Just a Piece of Paper

When it comes to planning what happens to our stuff after we’re gone, most of us think of a Will as the be-all and end-all solution. But here’s the thing: relying solely on a Will might not cover all the bases. Let’s dig into a three big reasons why.

Why Probate is a Pain

Probate sounds like a fancy legal term, and it kind of is. It’s the process where a court oversees the distribution of your assets after you kick the bucket. Here’s why it’s a hassle:

1. Time and Money: Probate can drag on for ages, and it’s not cheap. There are fees for everything, from court costs to lawyer bills. Plus, your loved ones could be waiting for months or even years before they see a dime of what you left behind. Last but not least, the psychological impact that the time can have on your loved ones should not be ignored. They are going to be grieving, and likely don’t need the extra pressure and hassle that comes with the additional court involvement.

2. No Privacy: Probate is like airing your dirty laundry in public. Everything about your estate becomes public record, so anyone can snoop around and see who got what. Don’t think people are looking? You would be mistaken. In fact, there are companies who search public probate data, aggregate the information, and sell it to people who want to reach out to beneficiaries and fiduciaries to sell them on their services or to buy assets at a discount.

3. Family Drama: Probate court can turn into a battleground. If someone’s unhappy with what they got (or didn’t get), they can contest the Will, which means more time and money wasted on legal fights. While avoiding probate does not prevent a challenge to your estate plan, it can make it harder.

The Incapacity Puzzle

But what if you’re not six feet under, yet you’re not quite able to make decisions for yourself? That’s where incapacity planning comes in, and a Will doesn’t cut it here either.

1. Left in Limbo: A Will only kicks into gear after you’ve died. If you’re still alive but not kicking mentally, there’s nothing in there to help guide decisions about your care or your finances.

2. Stress on Loved Ones: Imagine your family scrambling to figure out how to pay bills or make medical decisions for you when you can’t do it yourself. It’s a mess waiting to happen, and it can strain relationships when everyone’s already stressed out.

3. Risky Business: Without clear instructions, there’s a real chance someone could take advantage of your vulnerable state. Financial predators are out there, and they’re not above exploiting someone who can’t speak up for themselves.

What is Your Legacy? Hint: It Isn’t Your Stuff

When you die, what is really going to be the impact on your loved ones? Bottom line, they are going to miss you.

No matter how much stuff you leave, the money eventually gets spent, the assets get used up. But your real legacy does not have to and should not dwindle. Your legacy is a combination of your experiences, values, insights, and even words of advice. A Will does not pass on your legacy to the people you care about most. But, with proper planning, you can pass on not just your stuff, but also what will be treasured more than your assets or any heirloom. Your legacy is a piece of you, and there will be nothing more valuable to the people who love you most.

What’s the Solution?

So, if a Will isn’t the end-all-be-all, what’s a savvy planner to do? Here are a few ideas:

1. Trusts to the Rescue: Setting up a trust can bypass the whole probate circus. Plus, it can cover your back if you’re still around but not all there mentally. This is a big issue and while powers of attorney can be helpful (see below), they are not as powerful as a Trust.

2. Talk About Your Health: Get those advance directives sorted. That way, you can name someone to make medical decisions for you if you’re not able to, and you can make it clear how you want your end-of-life measures to be handled. It takes the guesswork out of tough decisions, lets your loved ones focus on caring for you, and alleviates the burden of guilt in the event that they are asked whether they want to pull the plug.

3. Give Someone Power: Designate a financial power of attorney. This person can step in and manage your money matters if you’re not up to the task. It’s like having a financial superhero ready to swoop in and save the day. But be careful as the power of attorney may not be enough for a person who is incapacitated.

4. Keep It Up to Date: Life changes, and so should your plans. Make sure to review and update your estate plan regularly. New baby? Change in assets? Change in a loved one’s circumstances? Or maybe there are changes in the law that affect your plan. It’s time for a refresh.

5. Don’t Forget to Pass on Your Legacy: Your insights, experiences, values, memories and even advice (you know…the really important part) can be passed on to your loved ones with proper legacy planning. Consider recording yourself or having your attorney’s office record you. Not sure what to say? Ask your attorney for ideas.

Good estate planning attorneys should know who you are and what is important to you, and they should have a bird’s eye view as to the people who matter most to you as well. They can use this information help you brainstorm what will work best for you and your family.

Wrapping It Up

A Will is a good start, but it’s just that—a start. To really protect your assets, legacy and your loved ones, you need to think beyond the basics. Probate and incapacity are real hurdles, but with the right planning you can navigate them like a pro, and leaving a legacy will give your family something to cherish forever. So, get talking with a good estate planning lawyer, update that estate plan, record your legacy, and give yourself some peace of mind knowing you’ve got all your bases covered.