Estate planning involves more than just writing a will, although a will is a very important step. Your plan can also include powers of attorney and strategies for avoiding probate.
What to Include in Your Will
Your will's principal purpose is to document who should inherit your money and property. Depending on your circumstances, you may also want to consider including additional provisions:
- A guardian for your minor children
- Forgiveness of debts owed to you
- Specifying accounts intended to pay for your final debts and expenses
When someone dies intestate or without a will, the court determines how to distribute his estate according to law. Typically, your spouse and children will inherit your entire estate if you die without a will. If you don't have a spouse or children, your nearest living relatives are entitled to your property.
How You Can Avoid Probate
Probate is the legal process that validates your will and distributes your estate according to your wishes. Intestate estates must go through probate as well. Some assets bypass probate:
Property held in joint ownership with rights of survivorship. Your share automatically passes to the surviving owners.
Living trusts. You can retain control over assets you placed in a revocable trust while you're alive, and your successor trustee distributes them according to your trust's terms after your death.
South Carolina's probate statutes provide for a simplified probate process for estates valued at less than $20,000. Estates valued at less than $10,000 may be claimed by affidavit.
Why a Financial Power of Attorney is Important
A financial power of attorney designates someone to act as your agent and to be responsible for paying your bills or making other financial decisions on your behalf if you can't. The legal document awarding this power outlines what actions your agent can take and when he gains this power.
Documenting Your Health Care Wishes
If you're unable to communicate with your doctors about medical treatments or life-prolonging procedures, two documents can help convey your wishes:
A living will indicates whether you want life-sustaining procedures if you're in a permanent vegetative state or if your condition is terminal.
A health care power of attorney names someone to make medical decisions on your behalf if you're unable to do so. You can limit your agent's powers and include statements indicating your wishes for specific situations.
South Carolina offers fill-in-the-blank forms for both these documents. If you'd like to personalize them, speak with an attorney.
What Else is Important to You?
Estate planning is not a one-size-fits-all process. Depending on your circumstances, you may want to safeguard other aspects of your life:
Your pets' well-being: A pet trust cares for any animals you own when you died and ends automatically when the last animal dies.
Your business's survival: It's important to have a plan in place for orderly succession or the sale of your business.
You may also want to evaluate your life insurance policies to ensure they meet your needs.
Talk With a South Carolina Estate Planning Lawyer
Even if you use the simple forms available online, you may want to speak with a knowledgeable South Carolina estate planning attorney to ensure your plan meets state and federal laws, which can change frequently.