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Guide to Wills, Powers of Attorney and Estates

The best time to create an estate plan is right now! Below, we provide a step-by-step guide to getting your estate in order. Create a will, power of attorney, or other estate planning document to protect yourself and your loved ones. Call Surasky Law Firm today for immediate assistance in wills and probate.

Step 1: Create an Inventory of Your Assets

You need to know what you own before you can decide who should inherit it. Start an inventory of all real estate, personal property, and digital assets, such as:

· Your home

· Vacation homes

· Other real estate

· Motor vehicles

· Campers

· Jewelry

· Artwork

· Investment accounts, mutual funds, and retirement accounts

· Stocks and bonds

· Cash in a bank account

· Life insurance

· Business assets

· Pets

This is only a partial list. Remember to list anything you own even a partial interest in. For example, you might be a co-owner with your siblings of your parents’ home. That is an asset.

Step 2: Identify Your Debts

When you die, your estate needs to pay off your debts before assets are distributed to your loved ones. You need some idea of what debts you have. Many debts will be small, such as monthly utility bills or cell phone plans. Other debts could be larger, like a home mortgage or credit card debt.

If you want, you can make sure to have enough cash in a bank account to pay bills. That makes it easier on your personal representative when it comes time to pay creditor claims.

Step 3: List Your Family Members

You should spend some time thinking about your family and who you want to inherit from you. Consider the following:

· Does any family member have special needs or receive government benefits?

· Has any family member been intimately involved in a family business? Do you want them to run the business when you die?

· If you have minor children, will any family members make good guardians to raise your kids?

· Which family members are responsible enough to serve as the personal representative of your estate?

Step 4: Determine Who Will Inherit from You

Once you identify assets, determine who should inherit them. Some assets you will leave through a will or trust. Other beneficiaries are listed on a policy, which is true of life insurance, retirement accounts, and any payable-on-death account.

Also identify who should be an alternate in the event your beneficiary passes before you. For example, you might leave your art collection to your cousin, with her children as alternates.

Now is the time to also think if you want to create a special needs trust for a disabled loved one or to make gifts while you are living.

Step 5: Choose Which Advance Directives You Want

The purpose of an advance directive is to determine now what will happen if you become incapacitated. For example, you can use a living will to spell out what treatment you want, such as life support, a feeding tube, etc.

You can also appoint an agent to make health care decisions for you by creating a health care power of attorney. This person can step in if anything in your living will is unclear.

When it comes to finances, South Carolina lets people use a power of attorney to nominate an agent. You give them certain powers, such as the ability to write checks and pay your bills. You can also give them the broader power to sell real estate, transfer investments, or take other action.

Step 6: Talk to Your Preferred Guardian, Agent, or Personal Representative

It’s always best to ask ahead of time if someone is willing to serve in one of these roles. If they feel uncomfortable, you can choose someone else. Agreeing to be a guardian to children, for example, is a big step. Give people some time to think it over.

Step 7: Find an Experienced South Carolina Estate Planning Lawyer

You could try to create your own documents using online programs, but we believe that is a mistake. An experienced lawyer can answer any questions you have and might have ideas about what estate planning documents you need. For example, after discussion, you might create a will along with a trust. Or your attorney might recommend purchasing life insurance, which is a simple way to make money available to your family fast after death.

Look for a lawyer who has drafted all types of estate plans. It also helps if the lawyer has probate experience, since wills must pass through probate.

Step 8: Consider Sharing Details of Your Estate Plan with Your Loved Ones

This is up to you. Some people don’t want to discuss it out of fear of creating conflict. For example, they might have decided not to leave the estate equally to their children. There are many reasons why people do so. Maybe one child needs more financial assistance, or one worked in the family business and will inherit it. The result is lopsided inheritances.

However, you might defuse any conflict by giving someone time to digest the reality that they are getting a smaller share of the pie. When you pass—10 or 20 years down the road—they will be less angry.

Updating Your Plan

Once you have created an estate plan, congratulations! You are definitely ahead of the game. About half of Americans have no estate planning documents, so you should feel proud to have come this far.

Also be aware of when you will probably need to update your estate plan:

· Divorce

· Marriage or remarriage

· Birth of a child

· Death of your guardian, agent, or personal representative

· Moving to a different state

· Acquiring large assets

Other people choose to revisit estate planning every 5 years or so, just to make sure they remain on track. Your goals might change as you age.

Call Surasky Law Today

Our firm is happy to walk you through the estate planning process, step by step. Call us today to schedule a time to meet with our estate planning lawyer in South Carolina.


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