As awkward as it can be to talk about estate planning, it is still a vitally important topic. Proper planning can ensure that your assets are distributed as you intend and that your business continues to run smoothly. Laws are similar throughout the United States, but Arkansas has some specific provisions. Below is a general overview of estate planning basics in Arkansas.
Writing a Will
A will outlines who will receive your property and other assets. It can establish custody if you have minor children. You also name an executor — someone who is legally responsible for seeing that your wishes are adhered to. While you can write your own will, it is best to seek legal advice to make sure everything is in proper form. In Arkansas typed wills must be witnessed by two adults who are not inheriting anything, and handwritten wills need three witnesses.
What Is Probate?
Your heirs likely will wind up in probate court to settle matters such as debts and taxes even if you do have a will. A will can speed things up, though, as can other mechanisms such as joint ownership or transferring property while you're still alive. Creating trusts also helps. Estates in Arkansas valued at less than $100,000 can be settled more quickly under a greatly simplified probate procedure. Learn more about small estates.
Power of Attorney
Your estate planning should include a power of attorney document appointing someone to handle your affairs should you become incapacitated. You can decide which powers to grant: Will your designee be limited to paying the bills or will he be able to sign contracts? Will she be allowed to make decisions about your children?
Health Care Decisions
Living wills, or advance directives, spell out how you wish to be cared for in the event you cannot decide for yourself. Do you want to be put on life support? Under what circumstances would you want life support stopped? Arkansas Hospice offers guidance on these and other factors. The organization's website includes forms you can complete.
At the very least, loved ones should know if you want to be buried or cremated, or donate your body for research. Spell out your wishes in a will or letter of instruction. If you want to be an organ donor, register and let your loved ones know you have done so. Many people buy burial plots or prepay funeral services, but prepaying for services in particular can be risky. Arkansas requires that anyone selling prepaid services be licensed.
Most people will not need to worry about estate taxes because an exemption of $5.25 million for 2013 survived the fiscal cliff. Even small business owners should create succession plans to keep things running smoothly. You also can take care of beloved pets or donate to favorite charities in your will. If your death would financially harm a surviving spouse or children, consider a life insurance policy to protect them.
This article is intended only as a general overview of some estate planning issues you might face. If you have specific questions, contact an Arkansas estate planning lawyer.