When we each pass away, we will be unable take our earthly possessions with us. Estate planning is the process of planning to whom our property will go upon our death.
Estate planning includes the use of tools such as wills, trusts, affidavits and contracts. There are five common myths surrounding estate planning that can, if believed, make our families’ lives harder after our deaths and that can sometimes fully deprive us from exercising our legal authority to determine to whom our assets will go when we die.
First, some people think that they will die sooner than usual simply by virtue of planning their estate. There is no evidence for this myth. In fact, many people live longer upon completing their estate planning because they gain peace of mind, knowing that their assets will go to whom they want when they die.
Second, some people think that estate plans cannot be changed in the future. Almost every tool used in estate planning can be changed in the future. Some changes may require participation by other people, but good attorneys usually focus on using tools that can be simply and inexpensively changed as circumstances change.
Third, some people think that their estate planning documents are public information. Wills and trusts in particular are not required to be shared with anyone other than the person who established them. For instance, wills are legally allowed to be brought to local probate courts, which is public record. However, most people do not store their wills at the local courthouse. And, one of the biggest benefits of a trust is that it is not required to be publicly shared, even after we die.
Because most estate planning documents can be kept confidential, prior versions of rewritten or amended estate planning documents can also be kept confidential. Thus, as our lives change, and we change our post-death asset distribution plans, heirs who end up with a smaller inheritance in later versions of our documents can be shielded from ever learning that those heirs were treated more favorably in earlier versions of a will or trust.
Fourth, some people think that naming kids in their estate planning documents will somehow make it possible for their kids to get their inheritances early or to change the distribution plan after the parent’s death. Estate planning documents are usually prepared to meticulously specify what can happen and when. It is almost never the case that kids as executors or trustees can change a parent’s estate plan, either by getting to a parent’s assets before that parent dies or by re-allocating a parent’s estate plan after that parent’s death.
Fifth, some people think that their estate planning can always be done later. As eloquently stated in the Biblical books of Genesis and Matthew, we know not the hour nor day of our death. And, obviously, once we are not able to make decisions due to illness, accident or medication, we are similarly precluded from planning our post-death asset distribution plans.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.