Estate planning can be an emotional issue, but it is important for adults to keep their affairs in order so that loved ones are shielded from drawn-out legal battles and financial problems in the event sudden tragedy strikes. Most states have similar estate laws, though West Virginia differs in some details.
A West Virginia will
Begin by writing a will that spells out who will inherit. This is crucial if you wish to leave your estate to someone to whom you are not related by marriage or blood. If you have children, spell out guardianship. Identify an administrator who will make sure all debts are paid and assets are distributed. West Virginia wills can be typed or handwritten. Two witnesses are required. Holographic wills—those entirely in the deceased's writing—are legal but take longer to verify. If you draft the document on your own, have a lawyer review it to make sure everything is in order. Learn more about why a will is important.
Going to probate
The probate process ensures that debts are paid before assets are divided. Costs can range from $44 to $201, depending on whether there is a will and on the value of the estate. You can simplify probate by taking steps such as setting up trusts, transferring property, opening accounts that are payable on death and establishing joint ownership.
Power of attorney
Giving someone—or more than one person—power of attorney lets them take care of your matters if you are unable to do so yourself. You can limit power, such as restricting authority to handling the banking, or allow broad abilities, such as selling property. Either way, make sure the person you appoint is aware generally of how you want your business conducted.
Health care questions
Advance directives set up procedures for making health care decisions if you can't make decisions yourself. In West Virginia, you can create a living will that spells out what type of "heroic" medical measure you want or do not want. You also can create a medical power of attorney that allows someone to make decisions for you if you are incapacitated. If you create a either document, make sure your loved ones know that it exists so that your wishes are followed.
Whether you want to be buried or cremated, spell out those wishes in your will or in a "letter of final instructions." In West Virginia, you also can leave instructions with the person to whom you grant medical power of attorney. Make sure your loved ones know if you want to donate organs. Prepaid funerals can be convenient for loved ones, but pre-need plans have not always covered costs after inflation. The best plans place the money in a trust or other account and pledge that all expenses will be covered.
Only estates worth more than $5 million have to worry about estate taxes—this is not a concern for most people. If you own a business, though, create a succession plan so that it can continue to operate when you can run it no longer due to death or disability. If a spouse, partner, children or parent would struggle financially after your death, consider a life insurance policy to help them. Other issues to consider: Who will care for your pets? Do you want to make sure your child's college education is covered?
This article is a broad look at planning your estate. Consult an estate planning attorney in West Virginia for questions about your specific situation.