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Griffin Georgia Law Blog

Estate planning for the possibility of both spouses' deaths

The death of Barbara Bush followed by the death of George H. W. Bush just a few months later is an example of an event that could cause problems for a couple's estate plans. For couples who are married for decades, dying in fairly close succession is not unusual. Couples in Georgia can take precautions to protect their estates in case of this happening.

It is possible to include a provision in wills or trusts that addresses what happens if one spouse dies just a few weeks or days after the other. This survivorship provision could mean that the estates do not have to go through probate separately. However, such a provision would not have applied to the Bushes since the deaths were more than seven months apart. For this reason, it is important for a surviving spouse to act quickly to take care of certain elements of the estate plan. This includes updating the beneficiary designation. If this is not updated and the spouse was named as beneficiary, the asset will pass back to the estate and have to go through probate.

How to prevent common errors in estate planning

There are several common mistakes that people in Georgia who are making an estate plan should avoid. One is failing to let the executor or others know what the estate assets are and where to find them.

It can be easy to overlook assets or crucial information when making a list like this. People may remember major assets, such as bank accounts, but forget about sentimental items and digital assets. It is also important to include all necessary information to access these accounts. This includes passwords and any personal information, such as the name of the person's first pet, that is used on security questions. Mortgage paperwork, the house deed, insurance policies, tax returns and any other documents of this nature should be placed somewhere safe but accessible.

What is a living will?

People in Georgia may want to include a living will as part of an estate plan. A living will explains the type of medical care a person wants if the person is unable to convey preferences because of illness or injury.

It is different from a durable power of attorney. A durable power of attorney appoints someone to make healthcare decisions of behalf of the person if the person is incapacitated. People who have durable power of attorney may be expected to use their own judgment, or the durable power of attorney might be paired with the living will. In the latter case, the person with the durable power of attorney would make sure the person's wishes as detailed in the living will are fulfilled. A living will deals with end-of-life care, but it may go into some detail about preferred treatment. For example, it might cover organ donation and tube feeding.

Tips for creating an organized estate plan

People in Georgia who were fans of comic book artist Stan Lee may be aware that toward the end of his life, there was some controversy over his estate and his care. Lee said earlier in the year that $1.4 million was missing from his accounts. He also signed a notarized statement saying his daughter had shouted at him and made friends with men who wanted to take advantage of him only to rescind the statement later.

One danger with estate planning, even for people who do not have large fortunes, is that they or others may question their judgment as they age. Older adults might be more likely to be influenced by people who do not have their best interests at heart. This is one reason it can be important to create an estate plan that includes powers of attorney and makes preparations in case a person becomes incapacitated. People may also want to ask professionals with whom they are working on the estate plan how cognitive decline is determined and what would happen next.

Why you should avoid deathbed estate planning

Estate planning should not be something where the “better late than never” mantra should be applied. While it is best to have something in place prior to your death, the earlier you start your planning can relieve family turmoil and thwart any chance of stress or confusion concerning your final wishes.

Estate planning may not be the best subject you want to start talking about, but waiting until the bitter end to finish your end of life planning can cause problems. Here is what can go wrong.

How to transfer art or other physical assets

Georgia residents may have an idea of what it takes to transfer cash, stocks or bonds to future generations. However, it may be a little more difficult to determine how to transfer assets like a car or a famous artwork. The first problem relates to properly valuing the asset. This should be done by having it appraised by an independent professional as opposed to a previous owner or relying on an online resource.

Once its value has been established, it is important to determine who to transfer it to and how. For instance, it may be a good idea to simply sell the asset, pay the taxes and transfer any cash left over. It may also be feasible to transfer the asset directly to the beneficiary. That person will get a step-up in cost basis to the value of the asset as of the date of the owner's death, which can reduce the taxes owed if it is sold in the future.

Using irrevocable trusts to protect assets

An irrevocable trust is an estate planning instrument that Georgia citizens may use when planning their estate to protect assets in the trust from creditors of their beneficiaries. It is important for those who choose this type of trust to understand how it works and factors that determine when a creditor can reach assets.

When property is placed in a trust, a beneficiary's creditors and spouses who have filed for divorce may ask a court for a share of the property. The advantage of using an irrevocable trust compared to some other types of trusts is that it can sometimes shield assets from creditors.

Estate planning steps

Having an efficient estate plan means having the necessary estate planning documents in place. Georgia residents can take certain steps to make sure that they have all of the legal documents they need to protect themselves and their loved ones.

One important step in developing the best estate plan is getting the right type of help. Obtaining the assistance of an attorney who practices estate planning law may be a wise move, particularly for people who want to make sure that there are no unexpected errors in their estate plan. Having an estate planning attorney draft the necessary legal documents may also be ideal for people who have complicated circumstances, such as individuals who have minor children, dependents with special needs or a blended family, which could require additional planning.

Housing shortage sparks more active winter real estate season

The late spring and early summer is traditionally the busiest home-selling season in Georgia and around the country, but the winter months are no longer as slow in the real estate business as they once were. A shortage of inventory has made the residential real estate market extremely competitive in recent years, and buyers looking for a bargain seem willing to venture out in poor weather if it means finding a good deal.

Buying a home in the winter months could also be a prudent financial move. Home prices in the United States increased by 10 percent between February 2016 and February 2017, and most experts expect these figures to keep on rising in the months ahead due to a booming economy and a dearth of houses for sale. The winter residential real estate market can be especially robust in states like Georgia, where winter snowstorms are rare.

Philanthropic giving as part of an estate plan

Estate planning in Georgia sometimes goes beyond bequeathing family keepsakes and distributing accumulated assets among loved ones. Some individuals in the Peach State make arrangements to continue philanthropic giving even after they pass. From taking advantage of potential tax benefits to wishing to establish or continue a family legacy, there are many reasons to make charitable giving part of the wealth management and estate planning process when working with an attorney.

The recommended first step with estate planning that involves philanthropic causes is to select specific charities. Some individuals prefer to base this decision on causes that they have a history of supporting while others opt to focus on how they want to be remembered. Once philanthropic goals have been set, the next step for charitable individuals is to decide which assets they want to give now or after they pass.

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