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Inheritance Law and Estate Planning

Inheritance law has been in place since 1969 and is governed by the Uniform Probate Code. UPC instructs what happens to the assets, debts, and financial affairs of a deceased person. Currently, only 18 states have adopted the Uniform Probate Code in its entirety, while the remaining 32 have adopted parts of it.

Although inheritance law varies from state to state, most adhere to a similar process. First, an estate executor is appointed either through a Will, Living Trust or the Probate Court. The person administrating the estate is responsible for settling the decedent’s debts, taxes, funeral expenses, and distribution of assets.

Unless the decedent has filed a Revocable Living Trust, the estate will be required to undergo the probate process. Individuals listed as beneficiaries must be notified and all of the decedent’s assets must be verified through the Probate Court. If there are outstanding debts associated with the estate, they must be settled prior to the disbursement of assets.

When an individual dies without leaving a Will, inheritance law requires the estate must pass through probate. The process is different for each state, but typically takes between 6 to 18 months to settle. When no Will has been filed, assets are usually transferred to the surviving spouse, children or other family members.

If you do not want your family to deal with additional burden after your death, it is crucial to develop an estate plan. Unless you are a multi-millionaire with a multitude of investments, organizing your assets is not that difficult to do. It simply takes a little time and effort.

First, draft a legally binding Last Will and Testament. Many attorneys offer this service for a nominal fee. Pre-printed forms are available at most office supply stores and only require you to fill in the blanks. In order for the document to be legally binding, you will need two individual’s willing to have their signatures witnessed in the presence of a notary public.

In addition to a Last Will and Testament, consider setting up a revocable living trust. When property is transferred to a trust it is not considered part of the estate and is thereby exempt from the probate process. A living trust is executed by a Trustee and assets are transferred to named beneficiaries upon your death.

Oftentimes, people procrastinate about drafting their Will. However, if you do not designate what you want to happen to your belongings, the Probate Court will decide for you. Making arrangements for the distribution of your assets is the only way to ensure your loved ones will receive what you want them to receive once you are gone.

You owe it to yourself and loved ones to develop an estate plan. Doing so will provide you with peace of mind and prevent unnecessary stress in the future.

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