Is probate a sign of poor estate planning?

Although no one may like to have their private financial affairs made public, the celebrity example of the late actor James Gandolfini illustrates certain negative consequences in the extreme. 

The actor did not utilize estate-planning tools like trusts and non-probate assets. Instead, he left much of his $70 million estate to his loved ones and friends through a will. That, in turn, required probate and the involvement of a court to oversee the distribution of assets. In addition, some commentators believed it exposed the estate to federal estate taxes.

Yet even worse than exposing one’s assets to probate is not coming up with any estate plan. According to a 2012 study, only 54 percent of Americans 55 years age or older had an estate plan. Without a will or trust, an individual’s probate assets may be subject to the laws of intestacy. That could result in distributions to individuals that the deceased would never have wanted.

Many attorneys, like the ones at our firm, also recommend an advanced health care directive to be included in an individual’s estate plans. As a result, another unintended consequence from not having an estate plan could occur in the event an individual becomes incapacitated by a sudden accident or illness.

For example, a guardian seeking to care for an incapacitated individual might have to obtain court approval before making any medical or financial decisions. The same fate could befall parents who become incapacitated and can no longer care for their minor children. 

Our law firm focuses on estate planning and can help individuals avoid unwanted publicity or outcomes in their estate administration. 

Source: Consumer Reports, “6 costly estate-planning minefields, and how to avoid them,” April 14, 2015

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