George Carlin would have been a great pitchman for estate planning. You may remember his stand-up routine on "stuff." We all have stuff, and we're pretty particular about our stuff. We move it around with us, it's hard for some of us to get rid of it, and some of us don't like our stuff mixed up with other people's stuff. That’s why, if you got stuff – George Carlin would say you need an estate plan!
During your lifetime, you collect a lot of stuff, some of it valuable and some of it not. But because it's your stuff, it means something to you. You already know you can't take it with you when you die, so there has to be some way of distributing your stuff to other people.
Normally, you want your stuff to go to people you care about… your family and friends, or sometimes a charitable cause. And you may want certain people to have certain stuff to remember you by.
Document Instructions for Your Stuff
When you die, all your stuff, no matter how valuable or invaluable it is, is called your "estate." In the simplest terms, an "estate plan" is your instructions for getting your stuff to the people you want to have it after you die.
Important Legal Mumbo Jumbo
An estate plan must meet certain legal requirements, including that it must be written down, it must be signed by you, and it must be witnessed by other people who see you sign it. Your estate plan may be very simple, or it may be more complex, depending on how much stuff you have, how long you want your stuff to provide for the people you care about, and when you want them to actually get your stuff. For example, you'd probably want to wait a few years before that cute two-year-old receives grandpa's antique pocket watch.
How Do You Get an Estate Plan?
You decide who you want to get your stuff and when you want them to get it. Your attorney then puts your instructions into a will or trust. (There are distinct advantages to a trust, but we can explain that further in your free 30-minute consultation.) Also, while you can legally write your own, you have a much better chance of your estate plan working as you desire if you have an experienced attorney prepare it. To be direct, ordinary people normally mess it up eliminating an chance their wishes will be honored after they are gone.
What Happens if I Just Don’t Get Around to It?
What if you die and you don't have an estate plan? Well, there still has to be a way to get your stuff to other people, so the state in which you live has laws that provide a plan if you don't have one. The problem is you won't have any say in who gets your stuff, someone might get left out - or - your stuff may go to a stranger - some “heir at law” you don’t even know.
Example 1: If more than one of your relatives want the same stuff, that can get messy and expensive… and a lot of your stuff will be used to pay the courts and attorneys to sort it out. (Happens all the time.)
Example 2: If you're not married and you want your significant other to get at least some of your stuff when you die, you'd better get your plan in place, or it won't happen. Under the laws of most state's, your stuff will go to your blood relatives. Period.
Example 3: If you're married and you've got kids, don't be too sure that your spouse is going to get all your stuff. Your kids might get their share of your stuff, which means your spouse may not get enough of your stuff to live a normal life.
By the way, if your stuff includes kids, then you've really got to get a plan. Otherwise, the court will decide who will raise them if something happens to both parents.
Scary thoughts? You bet!
The Bottom Line
If you're responsible enough to have stuff, you need to be responsible enough to make sure what will happen to it after you're gone is what you want. Let’s make sure you do it right; visit our website and set up a free 30-minute consultation now and we’ll help you translate your plans for your stuff into a legally binding estate plan so you can answer the question got stuff? George Carlin would say you need an estate plan!