When the rich and famous die without leaving an estate plan, it may seem unthinkable. In recent years, you may have heard numerous stories about celebrities who died with millions in assets but no will, leaving their loved ones the frustration of a prolonged and sometimes contentious probate.
If you are neither rich nor famous, you may feel there is no good reason for you to make an estate plan. This is a common misconception. Anyone who has any assets can provide security and guidance for their loved ones through appropriate estate planning. Without such a plan, your legacy may include family disputes and damaged relationships.
What if I don't have a will?
Dying intestate is how probate courts refer to someone who did not have a will or other estate plan at the time of death. If you die intestate, you risk the following consequences:
- Your loved ones will not know your wishes for the distribution of your property.
- Maryland probate courts will make decisions about critical issues such as who will represent your estate and who will inherit your assets.
- A judge will decide who becomes the guardian of your minor children.
- Your loved ones may struggle as they wait for probate court to make decisions about your estate.
Additionally, an estate plan can spare your family confusion and heartache if an illness or injury leaves you incapacitated and unable to communicate. Your estate plan can include a health care directive outlining your wishes for the kinds of care you want or do not want to receive. Naming a power of attorney grants authority to someone to make decisions about your health and finances to spare your family the need to seek such permission from the courts.
Staying on top of it
Making your plan is only the first step. Once you have created a will, established a trust and funded your assets appropriately, you will want to make sure your loved ones can locate your information easily if you should become ill or pass away. Many advisors recommend using a binder that organizes your documents, account numbers, passwords and insurance policies for easy access.
You are not finished even when your binder is full and placed in a safe and accessible spot. Periodically throughout your life, you should revisit your plan, reviewing it with your attorney to ensure it still meets your goals. This is especially important following major life events, such as marriage, divorce, the death of a beneficiary or changes in assets. This will keep your plan relevant and useful, providing peace of mind for you and your loved ones.