When we think of future planning, we often think of retirement. But if you have not taken the time to plan for what will become of your property and responsibilities after your death, your planning is far from complete. And since the laws vary a bit across state lines, Missouri residents who are beginning or revising their estate plans should keep some key points in mind.
Making a Will
Your will is the cornerstone of your estate plan. It details how you want your assets distributed among your heirs. Without a will, the state decides for you. Not only do you run the risk that the state’s choices may not match your own, but the process of settling an estate without a will can be especially lengthy and stressful for your loved ones. When you make your will, you name an executor, who handles the administration of your estate as it is settled. This person does not need to be an attorney or legal professional, but it is wise to choose someone you can trust who has some knowledge of estate law.
Probate in Missouri
The process through which an estate is settled and property transferred is called probate—and it often is full of stresses and pitfalls. Fortunately there are steps you can take to avoid or minimize the hassles of probate in Missouri:
- Secure assets in a living trust.
- Have joint ownership of property, with survivorship rights for both parties.
- Designate beneficiaries, including using tools such as “transfer on death” or “payment on death” designations in deeds and accounts.
As with a will, it is important to revisit and update these plans periodically, especially as you make new major purchases or experience life events that may affect your choice of beneficiary.
Financial Power of Attorney
To best protect your financial interests, estate planning experts often advise that individuals designate a financial power of attorney. Basically, this means you select an agent who can act on your behalf with regard to financial matters if the time should arise when you are unable to make such decisions on your own. You can limit the scope of this agent’s power as well as define when such power might take effect.
Health Care and End-of-Life Concerns
While you are planning for what should happen after your death, it is also a good time to plan for the possibility that there may come a day when you are not able to make health care choices for yourself. You may want to:
- Designate a medical power of attorney to a trusted individual to make medical decisions on your behalf.
- Draft a living will or advance directive detailing your preferences on matters such as life support.
These tools are not exclusive of one another and actually can be used in tandem.
Other Planning Considerations
Depending on your situation and wishes, your estate plan may also include:
- Life insurance
- Pre-arrangements for your funeral or burial
- Provisions for surviving pets
Your attorney or accountant may even be able to help you work out a strategy to minimize taxes, court fees, and other costs as property transfers to your heirs.
How a Missouri Estate Planning Lawyer Can Help
Estate planning can seem like a daunting task, but it does not need to be. Planning for your family’s future can offer a lot of peace of mind. A Missouri estate planning attorney can ensure that your estate plan meets all state and federal law requirements, whether you are just beginning to think about drafting a will or are reviewing and updating existing documents.
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