There are people out there that assume that there is really no need for estate planning lawyers, because things just take care of themselves. After all, there are laws on the books to ensure that assets get into the right hands after someone dies, right?
The answer is yes, there are intestate succession laws. However, in many if not most cases, your assets would not be distributed in accordance with your true wishes if you do nothing and let the courts sort it out.
For example, let’s say that you are happily married, and you pass away while you are relatively young. Your father is still alive, and he is very well-off financially. You were estranged from him for years before your passing, and he never liked your spouse.
Under these circumstances, you would want your spouse to inherit all of your separate property. However, under Michigan intestate succession laws, your spouse would inherit the first $150,000 of your intestate property and three-quarters of the balance. Your father would inherit the remainder. This is one example, but there are many other possible scenarios that would result in people that you love being shortchanged or disinherited entirely.
Other individuals that know they should have an estate planning document in place. They buy into notions that are advertised on the Internet about the usefulness of do-it-yourself legal documents, including last wills. The contention is that estate planning lawyers are not necessary, because anyone can create a will using a down or worksheet that they purchase online.
In fact, going it alone is very risky business. Everyone has heard of the highly respected magazine and website Consumer Reports. They are completely objective, and they conduct studies that inform readers about the safety, value, and usefulness (or lack thereof) of products and services that are offered to consumers. Back in 2012, they decided to put the subject of do-it-yourself last wills under the microscope.
They assigned a number of staffers to the project, and they were told to create last wills using downloads and worksheets that were being offered by three of the most prominent online purveyors of legal documents. The staffers used fictional information to create personas, but the facts were all logical and consistent with what you would see with a typical person creating a will.
Once they had the test documents completed, they went on to the next step in the process. They set about the task of finding three prominent legal professors to examine the last wills that were created by their researchers. One of the three experts that emerged was Norman Silber, a commercial and consumer law specialist affiliated with Yale and Hofstra University. Gerry W. Beyer was also enlisted. He was a highly respected educator at the Texas Tech University School of Law. The other contract specialist that participated in the project was Hofstra University’s Richard K Neumann.
These highly respected legal educators went to work, and they submitted reports after they had scoured the documents. Multiple flaws were found, and they were unimpressed. They said that mistakes can easily be made that would lead to unintended negative consequences. At the end of the day, Consumer Reports recommended against do-it-yourself estate planning.
Understand Your Options
The concept of DIY planning is really a head scratcher, because you are arranging for the transfer everything that you own to the people you love the most. This is a very profound act. People are very careful about significant financial decisions that they make throughout their lives, and some of the same individuals do not discuss all their options with estate planning attorneys. They harbor misconceptions, and their loved ones ultimately pay the price.
Here is one scenario that can unfold. Most people would like their heirs to receive inheritances in a timely manner. This can be a matter of preference, but in other cases, family members may have relied on the deceased person for support.
If a last will is used as an asset transfer vehicle, it would be admitted to probate. This is a time-consuming legal process that takes six months to a year, even if there are no major complications. Some estates are stalled probate for considerably longer periods of time.
On the other hand, if a living trust is in place, the trustee can distribute assets to the beneficiaries outside of probate. This is one alternative to a last will, but there are others. The optimal course of action will depend upon the circumstances.
Contact Our Firm!
If you would like to sit down and discuss your legacy with Mount Clemens estate attorneys that genuinely care about our community, we would be glad to help. You can schedule a no obligation consultation right now if you call us at 586-493-7661, and there is also a contact form you can fill our on this website.