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Last Will and Testament – An Integral Part of Estate Planning

Executing a Last Will and Testament is the greatest gift you can give your loved ones. When people do not take time to write out their will it creates additional grief for the family. Instead of having a say-so in how your assets are distributed, a judge will decide.


The Last Will and Testament is used to appoint an estate administrator, designate beneficiaries to receive assets and personal belongings, express burial preferences, and establish guardianship for minor children.


Overall, the last will is the package that ties up loose ends of your life. Without it, others will be left in charge of handling your affairs. Dying intestate (without a Will) creates a terrible burden for your loved ones. If you died today, would anyone know what to do? If not, it is time to create a will.


Many options exist for establishing a last will. Several websites offer downloadable forms that can be filled out and notarized. Office supply stores sell preformatted forms which only require filling in the blanks.


Most credit unions, banks, and investment brokers offer estate planning services to their customers. Estate planning can range from executing a simple last will and testament to establishing revocable or irrevocable trusts. Fees range from under $100 to several thousand. Much depends on the value of the estate and services rendered.


When individuals own businesses, real estate and valuable assets they should consider using the protection of trusts. The Will is placed inside the trust; keeping assets out of probate and exempt from inheritance tax.


Wills must undergo the probate process when not protected through a trust. This process involves validating the will, court confirmation of the estate administrator, paying creditor debts, inventory and appraisal of assets, filing a final tax return, and distributing assets to heirs and beneficiaries.


Trusts are generally reserved for estates valued over $100,000. Smaller estates can utilize techniques to keep assets out of probate. These include establishing beneficiaries on bank accounts, life insurance policies and investment accounts.


The average probated estate takes six to nine months to process. Complex estates can take years to settle. Much depends on the court caseload, estate value, and how well family members get along.


The probate process provides a platform where heirs can air grievances. If they feel slighted or were disinherited, they can contest the will. This act rarely accomplishes anything more than bankrupting the estate by overinflating legal expenses.


Estate planning experts recommend hiring a probate lawyer to administer estates where family dysfunction exists. Family strife is less likely to occur when a lawyer or professional estate planner is involved.

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