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It’s only human nature to put off setting up a will. Thinking about leaving your loved ones behind is neither pleasant nor easy. However, one of the best ways you can show them you care is by taking the time to make decisions about your estate. Not only will you gain peace of mind from knowing that your wishes will be met, but you’ll know you’ve made the process easier for your loved ones.
If you have no plan for your estate, your state of residence has one for you—“intestacy.” With intestacy, your assets go to those the state has predetermined. Each state’s intestacy laws are slightly different, but typically, a single person’s assets will go to their blood relatives. If they’re married, a percentage typically will go to their spouse, as well.
Unfortunately, intestacy can sometimes lead to unjust outcomes. In one case, a woman was raised by her step-father in her home and lived in the house for decades. She became his caretaker when he got sick, taking care of his needs around the clock during his final illness. However, when he died, she discovered that he didn’t have an estate plan. Under the state’s intestacy laws, his assets, including the house, would go to his distant blood children who weren’t even close to him in his dying days. The state intestacy statute is a one-size-fits-all “solution” that doesn’t take personal histories into account. But you can take control of your own situation. A will overrides state intestacy statutes and provides your own specific instructions in the probate process.
Furthermore, a trust avoids the probate process altogether. Not only does it distribute assets to whom and how you want, but provides privacy, which isn’t possible in the probate process.
Often, the smallest things have the most sentimental value. Your grandmother’s thimble collection or your grandfather’s railroad watch might connect you to them in a special way. Or perhaps your sports memorabilia holds a cherished place in your daughter’s heart. You want those items to go to particular beneficiaries who will treasure their sentimental value as you have. There’s an easy and flexible way to make that work.
When your will or trust is drafted, it can include a disposition of “tangible personal property” through a list external to the document. Tangible personal property includes things you can touch, like the items listed above. It does not include real estate or intangible assets like bank accounts, cash, and so forth.
What makes the tangible personal property list unique is that it does not need to be executed with the formalities of a will or trust. For example, the list does not need to be witnessed or notarized, even though the document referencing the list needed additional formalities. If you change your mind, you can simply update the list, sign it, and date it again, ensuring that your loved ones will receive the meaningful assets you’ve handpicked for them.
Upon the death of a loved one, great emotional sadness sets in as family and friends support each other during their time of loss. The last thing you want to happen is for your loved ones to experience additional stress by trying to tackle the details of an estate that hasn’t been tracked, organized, or planned. One of the greatest gifts you can give your family after you pass is a well-informed, well-reasoned, and easy-to-locate will. They can then focus their energies not on searching for documents or battling probate, but sharing memories.
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