It is vitally important that adults give estate planning careful consideration. Proper planning allows your loved ones to sidestep expensive, protracted legal controversies and helps ensure that your final wishes are followed. Most states have similar laws governing estates, though Mississippi law does differ in various details.
Compiling a Will
Your will is a compilation of written instructions that provide directions as to how you want your estate distributed. If you have minor children, the document should address their care and guardianship. Couples occasionally write reciprocal wills that mirror one another. Your will should designate an executor, the individual who will be legally responsible for ensuring that debts are paid and assets are distributed according to your instructions. Generally, Mississippi law requires wills to have two witnesses. State law does recognize unwitnessed holographic, or handwritten, wills but these often take longer to validate because a judge must verify the signature. Hiring an attorney to thoroughly review your will ensures that it is legally solid and correctly phrased so it will accomplish your goals. Mississippi intestacy laws determine how estates are distributed for individuals who die without leaving valid wills.
Even if you do create a valid will, your estate will have to go through the probate process to ensure that your debts and taxes are settled, and assets are distributed. You can eliminate some of the time and expense your loved ones are required to put forth by taking estate planning actions such as creating trusts, transferring property, and establishing joint ownership while you are alive. Mississippi is divided into twenty Chancery Court Districts created to facilitate probate matters.
Power of Attorney
Granting an individual power of attorney allows that person to take care of your affairs if you are unable to do so, though how much power to allow is an individual decision. The power of attorney document can be limited, confining its scope to handling routine financial matters, or far-reaching, allowing assets to be sold or purchased. Either way, make sure that the individual you appoint is informed about the philosophy you adhere to when conducting business.
Health Care Decisions
You can also create a medical power of attorney naming someone to make healthcare decisions if you are incapacitated. Legal arrangements that allow decisions to be made about your health care if you are unable to make them for yourself are known as advance directives. Mississippi recognizes two types of advance directives: A living will outlining what medical measures you want and under what circumstances and naming a health-care surrogate who will make decisions if you are incapacitated.
Your will or letter of final instructions should enumerate funeral wishes; cremation, burial, or donating your body for research are among several options. Inform loved ones of your decision if you have registered as an organ donor. Some people make prepaid funeral arrangements to help loved ones, but controversies have arisen when funeral homes have ceased operations or payments have not accounted for inflation.
Unless your assets are valued at more than $5 million, it will not be necessary for you to address federal estate taxes; Mississippi estate taxes are assessed on assets in excess of $1 million. If you are the proprietor of a small business, creating a succession plan will allow smooth operations to continue after your death. A life insurance policy can help a surviving spouse by temporarily replacing lost income. You can write provisions into your will that ensure your pets are cared for.
This article is a general overview of estate planning. Contact a Mississippi estate planning attorney if you have questions concerning your specific situation.