The recent passing of basketball great Kobe Bryant is a jarring reminder of just how fragile life really is. Most of us take for granted that we have a long string of tomorrows ahead of us, but such thinking is arrogance. Consider the words of James:
Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog — it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. (James 4:13-14, NLT)
The harsh reality is that none of us know which day will be our last, so wisdom dictates that we should prepare for our passing in advance. When Hezekiah, the King of Judah, became gravely ill, the Lord sent the prophet Isaiah to him with a message, saying “Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die.” Unfortunately, most of us are not given such a clear warning.
Maybe that’s why so many people put off creating an estate plan. In a 2019 study by Caring.com, only 40% of adults have a will, living trust, or other testamentary documents. Predictably, the study found that the percentages increased directly with the age of the respondent. What’s surprising, however, is that only 66% of people age 65 and older have a will or a trust. The consequences of failing to plan can sometimes be devastating. Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die.
If you’d like to learn more about creating a will or trust tailored to your family, your property, and your individual circumstances, contact McDannold Law today.
Probate is a court-supervised process for finding and gathering the assets of a deceased person, paying any debts, distributing the remaining assets to beneficiaries, and winding up his or her affairs.
If the decedent had a will, it must be deposited with the clerk of the circuit court within 10 days of death. However, the probate process doesn’t begin until a petition is filed, and the decedent’s will has no legal effect until it is admitted to probate by the court. Whether or not there was a will, probate is required to pass ownership of the decedent’s assets to the persons who are entitled to receive them.
A personal representative, known elsewhere as “executor,” is appointed by the judge to administer the decedent’s probate estate. Serving as personal representative is a responsible job, and mismanagement of the estate can result in personal liability to the beneficiaries. For this reason, it’s important to consult a probate attorney who can provide legal advice to the personal representative and represent him or her throughout the estate proceedings.
Contact McDannold Law to learn more about the probate process.
If you own a home in Florida, you’re probably familiar with the homestead tax exemption that can reduce its assessed value by up to $50,000. You may not realize, however, that Florida’s Constitution provides additional protections for homestead property, and it’s important to understand how these protections affect your estate planning. First, if the owner of the homestead property dies leaving a spouse or a minor child, the owner cannot give the property as a gift in his or her will. An exception allows the homestead to be gifted to the spouse, but only if the owner is not survived by a minor child. Second, the homestead property cannot be forcibly sold to pay the debts of the owner, and the protection from such debts descends to the heirs of the owner. This protection does not apply to mortgages or other liens attached to the homestead property itself. Contact McDannold Law for a free consultation to learn how these important laws may impact your estate plan.
In a recent Caring.com article, author Nick DiUlio reveals some troubling, though perhaps unsurprising, statistics regarding wills, trusts, and other estate planning documents: only 4 in 10 Americans have them. What’s worse, only 36 percent of parents with children under the age of 18 have an end-of-life plan.
The reasons for such dismal numbers seem to coalesce around age and affluence. Just 22 percent of Millennials have a will, and Generation X is only slightly better off at 36 percent. Baby Boomers, the oldest of whom are around 70 years of age, are the most prepared group with 60 percent having an estate plan. While I can (almost) give Millennials a pass on this – honestly, who plans for their own death at 20? – it’s harder to explain the older groups’ reluctance to plan for the inevitable. Many comprise the “sandwich generation,” a term that refers to people who find themselves caring for aging parents along with their own children. For such people, the circumstances of daily life would seem to highlight the necessity of planning ahead. Additionally, most Boomers have experienced, either firsthand or through a friend or family member, a wide range of end-of-life issues – retirement, declining health, waning capacity, and so on. This makes it difficult to understand why 40 percent of Baby Boomers – the generation statistically nearest to the end of life – are wholly unprepared for it.
What makes more sense is that people who have more assets tend to be more prepared. Of those persons without a will, 29 percent said it was because “they don’t have enough assets to leave to anyone,” evincing a misconception that estate planning documents are only for people with substantial wealth. Of course, those people should make plans for distributing their assets at death – sometimes considerable tax consequences result from not doing so – but the reality is that everyone should have a will. Why?
Because it’s not about you.
First, no matter how few assets a person may have, or how meager they may be, those things will mean something to someone after that person is gone. An inexpensive wristwatch, for example, can seem priceless to a child after her father dies, because the knowledge that daddy wore it every day keeps her heart connected to his memory. I have a fountain pen in my drawer that belonged to my uncle, one of several he collected during his life. By any measure, it’s a lousy pen – it’s heavy, the nib doesn’t write smoothly, and every so often it leaks on my clothes. But I wouldn’t trade that pen for the world, simply because it once belonged to my uncle. Having a will does more than just distribute stuff; it connects people to the memory of those who have passed on.
Second, and maybe more importantly, even people with very few assets leave behind grieving friends and family members. Coming to terms with the loss of a loved one is emotionally overwhelming, and the last thing most relatives want to deal with is choosing whether Frank or Bob should get grandpa’s flat screen TV. By deciding in advance which assets should go to which beneficiary, a person can shield family members from the burden of making those choices at such a challenging time. In this regard, a will or trust gives the distraught family a calm reassurance that things will be done exactly as their loved one wanted. It sounds cliché, but planning ahead really does show others how much you care.
Are you ready for tomorrow?