A Durable Power of Attorney allows you to designate a trusted person to make financial decisions or handle business affairs on your behalf in the event that you become disabled or incapacitated. In the absence of a power of attorney, even a husband or wife would not be able to make decisions about assets held in a disabled spouse’s name, or to sell a home owned as joint tenants. A formal court hearing may be required to appoint a guardian and conservator, a public proceeding which is both expensive and time-consuming. Whether the disability is temporary or permanent, it is important to have a Durable Power of Attorney in place so that important financial decisions can be made in a timely manner.
An Advance Directive for Health Care (formerly referred to as a Living Will) allows you to appoint an agent who will give directions and make decisions about your health care when you are unable to do so. It also allows you to record your preferences and beliefs regarding medical treatment and end of life decisions. This ensures that your directions will be carried out by the trusted person you choose, and it helps avoid disagreements among family members. Without an Advance Directive for Health Care in place, the people in your life could be required to petition the court to be appointed your Guardian. Older versions of this document, such as a Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney, should be replaced with an updated Advance Directive for Health Care to comply with current Georgia law.
A Revocable Living Trust allows your loved ones to avoid the cost, delay, and public nature of the probate process for distributing assets. The individuals who establish the trust (the grantors) are the initial trustees and maintain complete control of the trust assets (such as a home, bank accounts, investment accounts, a business) during their lifetimes. Upon the deaths of the initial trustees, the assets are controlled by a successor trustee named by the grantors, and then are distributed outright to beneficiaries or held in trust for their benefit, according to the grantors’ express wishes. All of this is done without the involvement of a court or public hearings, and at a lower cost than the probate process.
A Revocable Living Trust also provides for the management of a grantor’s affairs during a period of incapacity. You are the trustee unless you become incapacitated, and then your successor trustee takes over and is bound by law to follow your instructions. Without this, the court may appoint a Conservator to manage your financial affairs if you become incapacitated.
You already have an estate plan, whether you know it or not. If you don’t have a Will-centered or Trust-centered plan, then you have the plan designated for you by the State Legislature. If you would like to decide for yourself how to provide for your loved ones, then you need to put an individualized plan in place. Estate planning does not have to be expensive - in fact, it is far less expensive and time consuming for your loved ones if you plan ahead, and that may be the greatest gift you could leave them. Our firm charges a flat fee for estate planning work, so that you will know the entire cost for estate planning services at the beginning of the process.
Julianna Burrall works with clients to develop a personalized estate plan that meets their individual wishes and needs. She serves a wide variety of clients, from those needing a simple plan, like a basic Will, to those needing a more complex plan, such as a Revocable Living Trust, with or without sophisticated tax planning and charitable giving. Depending on your personal situation, Julianna will help you create a will-centered or trust-centered estate plan that allows you to maintain control of your assets and pass them on to whom you want, when you want, and how you want. All customized estate plans include a Durable Power of Attorney and Advance Directive for Health Care.
According to Georgia law, if you die without a Will, your surviving spouse may inherit only a fraction of your assets, with the remainder distributed to your children, who would have complete access to any inheritance at age 18. With a Will in place, you are able to direct exactly how your assets will be distributed upon your death, and you can set up a testamentary trust to manage the inheritance of any minors until they reach a greater age of responsibility.
Apart from the distribution of assets, there are other important directions that can be accomplished only through a Will. For example, a Will is the only means to appoint a trusted person to serve as the executor of your estate. Appointing an executor can prevent squabbling among family members or the need to compensate an administrator that is appointed by the court. A Will is the only way for parents to name a guardian for their minor children after they are gone. By appointing a guardian, parents ensure that their children will live with the caregiver they choose, and they eliminate potential disagreements among surviving family members.
If you made a will years ago, it is important to review your estate plan with an attorney to make sure it addresses your current needs and intentions. This is especially true if you have married or divorced, have had children, or have accumulated significant assets since making your earlier Will. You should also make sure that your Will and other planning documents comply with current law.
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