During the month of February we think about love letters and romantic gift giving. But truly, what could be better proof of a commitment than an estate plan that protects your loved one for years to come? Flowers are beautiful, but why not give something with a little more shelf life.
Estate Plan, the Ultimate Love Letter
An estate plan is the ultimate grand gesture to your spouse, significant other, or family. Under Alaska law, the distribution of your estate is determined by what documents are in place. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve known someone, what your “relationship status” is, or whether or not you are related to them. To make sure your property is distributed in accordance with wishes, you must have an estate plan in place. So if you want to protect the ones you love, create an estate plan.
Are there material possessions you would like to pass on to your children? Are there assets you would like to leave to a spouse? A will is a good place to start. Without it, it is possible your spouse may not inherit your property. On the other hand, if you “want” to share your assets with a friend or charity, this too should be included in your estate plan.
Protect Family Heirlooms and Family Memories
An estate plan is not only about leaving assets behind. It’s also a way to pass on family heirlooms, a letter to someone in the family, instructions for your burial. Gun collections, grandma’s jewelry, the family farm, can all easily end up in probate without the proper legal paperwork to protect them. When you list these kinds of personal items in a will, you aren’t just protecting their value, you are also protecting the memories passed through the generations.
Choose Someone to Make Decisions On Your Behalf
Is there someone, family or not, you would like to designate to act and speak on your behalf? Who will make your medical decisions if you are incapacitated? Many parents do not want to leave the weight of those decisions to their children. Who would be willing to carry the responsibility of implementing your life and death decisions?
Meeting with an Anchorage estate planner will give you an opportunity to sort out your options. They can guide you through the process and help you put your thoughts into legally binding documents, along with your signature. Doing so now will be much easier than waiting until you are in the midst of a family crisis, or worse, until you are suffering from an illness.
Estate Planning for Unmarried Partners
If you are unmarried but in a long term relationship at the time of your death, your partner will have absolutely no protection without an estate plan, and neither will you. They will not be able to make any decisions regarding your estate, your medical care, or your burial, even though they may be crystal clear on your wishes and committed to seeing them through. A “significant other” will not be recognized by the court at all, unless they are included in an estate plan. If you share a home, they will be forced to vacate the property. And they will forfeit any interests in any shared assets. This can create some very complicated family situations which could be easily avoided by a few pieces of paper.
Focus on the Security You Are Providing
It’s sometimes uncomfortable for us to make these kinds of decisions. There is a kind of finality to putting it on paper. But if you don’t figure things out now, your loved ones will be forced to figure it out later, without your input. Rather than focusing on your mortality, focus on the security and protection you will be creating for your loved ones, for years to come. When you think about it, an estate plan really is the ultimate love letter.
Review And Update Your Existing Plan
If you already have an estate in place, take a few minutes to review the beneficiary designations to your insurance policies, retirement accounts, and annuities to ensure that the right person will receive an inheritance in the event that you unexpectedly pass.
Sometimes a prior spouse will accidentally inherit an insurance policy, because the client failed to update the beneficiary designation. Marriage and divorce are legal statuses that need to be reflected throughout your estate plan. This is another reason why it’s so important to seek out an Anchorage estate planner who knows Alaska law, and can make sure that all your documents agree.
Once an individual has passed, there is nothing that can be done to change the beneficiary designation. Feel free to contact Constance Aschenbrenner at the Law Office of Constance A. Aschenbrenner, if you have any questions about how to start planning your estate.