15 Freedoms You Voluntarily Relinquish Without Adequate Estate Planning

This post was originally posted by Danielle G. Van Ess, Esq. on her blog.  You can see her blog here.

The following is a list of some of the freedoms you choose to give away, not have taken away, mind you, when you neglect your estate planning. A simple will is simply not enough and expressing your wishes to your loved ones is not legally enforceable in any way. Everyone who cares about her or his loved ones and wishes to minimize the suffering of those left behind needs to create and maintain an up-to-date estate plan.

By neglecting to create and maintain an up-to-date estate plan, you voluntarily relinquish your freedoms to:

  1. Name the people you want to be able to respond immediately in an emergency to legally step in to care for your minor children if you are unable to do so either temporarily or permanently, and avoid the possibility of having your children taken into child protective services and temporarily placed in foster care until such time as the authorities can locate and approve of a suitable alternative
  2. Name the people you want to permanently raise your minor children in the event of the death of both parents and specify how you wish those people to raise your children according to your values and beliefs
  3. Name the people you want to manage the financial affairs of your estate for the benefit of your children and their inheritance, especially where they are very young minors, in the event of the death of both parents, often not the same people you wish to physically care for and raise your children, and avoid the potentially very expensive need for a court-appointed guardian for your children’s finances with the requisite regular reports to the court and associated accounting and court costs which can eat up your children’s inheritance over time
  4. Choose to whom, how, and when you want all of your assets (your home, your car, your personal property, etc.) distributed upon your death, including at what age(s) you want your children to receive their inheritance, which just might not be a lump sum distributed outright at the less than fully mature age of 21
  5. Exclude anyone you would not ever want to raise your children but who might petition the court and the court might otherwise permit to do so, for example, relatives who look good “on paper” but about whom you have information to the contrary or from whose personal values and beliefs yours diverge fundamentally
  6. Exclude anyone you would not want to receive distributions of your assets, for example, family members from whom you are estranged or who might be financially incapable of handling their own finances or have problems with gambling, drugs, alcohol, or be involved in lawsuits or divorces to which those assets would be vulnerable
  7. Nominate any charities to which you wish to leave a specific bequest, for example, instead of or along with other distributions to certain relatives in the event your other named beneficiaries have died along with or predeceased you
  8. Name the persons you wish to receive access to your protected health information, make medical decisions for you in the event of your temporary or permanent incapacity to do so, and speak for your family to express your wishes regarding life-sustaining artificial treatments
  9. Name the persons you wish to be responsible for the management of all your financial affairs in the event of your incapacity
  10. Specify whether you wish to be an organ donor and specifically of which organs and for what purposes
  11. Specify what type of memorial or funeral service you wish to have and what you would like done with your remains
  12. Avoid paying the highest taxes levied, both Massachusetts and federal estate taxes
  13. Avoid the very public court process called probate, which can subject your survivors to unscrupulous practices by those who prey upon the most vulnerable people in their most vulnerable times, like grieving survivors with new inheritances
  14. Avoid the time delays involved in the probate process, which is about 12-14 months in Massachusetts, and temporarily freezes your assets making them unavailable to your loved ones immediately as needed
  15. 1Avoid the inherent financial costs of probate, which are about 5-15% of your estate in Massachusetts in total court costs, accounting and appraisal fees, and attorneys’ fees