Why You Should Plan Your Estate
A Harris Interactive survey of the general population, done for Lawyers.com, found 58% of all adults lack even a basic will. If you die “intestate”--meaning without a proper will or living trust--your assets will be divided according to state law. Below are a few examples of how Connecticut law would require your estate be distributed. Sit down, you might be shocked.
Example 1: Married couples with children generally write wills that leave everything to each other, with the idea that the survivor will take care of the kids. If you had no will, and your estate was worth $600,000, and you and your spouse have two children, your spouse would get only $350,000, and each of your children gets $125,000.
Consider the complications this could cause. If your children are young, your surviving spouse will have the hassle of accounting for the kids' funds separately and the worry of what they will do with the money when they come of legal age. If your kids are grown, your spouse may have to rely on them for help to maintain his or her current lifestyle.
Even if you have no kids, your spouse does not get everything; in Connecticut your parent or parents, if living, would take a share.
Example 2: Married couple with no children, but husband’s father is alive. If husband dies without a will and his estate is worth $600,000, the wife gets $475,000 and the father gets $125,000.
The results get even more complex as the family unit becomes blended or non-traditional.
Example 3: Married couple with one child, but the husband was previously married and had two previous children. If husband had no will, and his estate is worth $600,000, the surviving wife would get only $300,000, the child with her would get $100,000 as separate property, and the children outside the union would each get $100,000.
Conversely, if you die intestate with a second spouse and kids from a first marriage, the kids could end up with a lot less than you'd want.
Example 4: Married couple with no children, but husband has two previous children. If husband had no will and his estate was worth $600,000, wife would get $300,000 and the children outside the union would get $150,000 each. However, the 401(k) and other workplace pension plans aren't part of that split; federal law automatically awards them to your current spouse, unless he or she has signed a form waiving rights to them. The spouse gets the house, too, if you two own it as joint tenants, as is common. The same goes for a jointly owned brokerage account.
Finally, the importance of having an estate plan for couples who are not married is even more urgent.
Example 5: A couple has been together for many years without being married, and has no children. One partner dies leaving living parents and assets of $600,000. The parents get $600,000.
Guardianship: What if both parents die in a common disaster? Unless you have planned for Guardianship of your children, someone who loves your kids, but whose parenting style you don’t love, might win custody of them. If you choose a Guardian in your will, the court will generally respect your choice and possible family arguments will be all but eliminated.
Has Your Will Been Revoked?: If you are facing divorce, or are divorced, you need to take a close look at your estate planning documents to ensure that your wishes are carried out. Wills of Connecticut residents executed prior to January 1, 1997 are revoked under Connecticut law if the maker of the will gets divorced. While intending to do the right thing by disinheriting your ex, the result could have drastic consequences to your carefully constructed estate plan. If your will is revoked, your estate would be distributed under intestate law, some examples of which are listed above. Another consequence is the additional expense and delay in petitioning the Probate Court to have an administrator appointed; and the Court may appoint someone you would not choose yourself. For wills executed on and after January 1, 1997, while they won’t be revoked in their entirety, the part that would have gone to your ex (and that could be virtually everything) could still pass under intestate law if the provisions of your will fail to provide for an alternate beneficiary. In addition, property passing outside of your estate, such as retirement plans and insurance policies, may require a change of beneficiary to ensure that your ex-spouse does not have an accidental windfall to the detriment of your loved ones. If you are divorced or are getting divorced, you should make a systematic review of your estate planning and beneficiary documents. By carefully reviewing your estate planning documents with your attorney, you can ensure the distribution of your assets according to your wishes.
Some people, knowing that it’s responsible to outline property division and guardianship while they are alive, turn to pre-fabricated wills or famous name on-line document preparers. They don’t give legal advice; they can’t. They’re not attorneys. They do things in the easiest way for them, and not necessarily in the best way for you. Use a Connecticut lawyer.
Attorney Charles F. Basil is licensed only in Connecticut and deals only with Connecticut Clients. He is rated “Superb” (Highest Tier) on Avvo.com, a peer-reviewed website. A pioneer in delivering E-Lawyering Services in Connecticut, Attorney Basil can prepare Wills and other Estate Planning Documents through a convenient, Secured Client Portal you can access virtually anytime from virtually anywhere. Services include legal guidance from a Connecticut Licensed Attorney, Drafting of the legal documents, and Instructions for their execution and storage.