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Who Gets Your Stuff? Estate Planning to Avoid Probate Law and Family Disputes

​FEBRUARY 2016

Estate Planning to Figure out Who Gets the "Stuff."

People often say that my stuff is “stuff” and somebody else’s stuff is “junk.”
But when someone dies, nothing causes fights in #estates more than “stuff” — family heirlooms, collectibles and just about anything not nailed down (i.e. tangible personal property).

And, if you die without a will, especially with a blended family, the state starts doing math to figure out who gets 1/3 of the antique coffee table or 1/5 of the house. It's not a pretty or fun process.

The state won't care that all your other children promised to respect your wish that the house or the car go to your sister. And, honestly, often times, the children themselves may conveniently forget that promise themselves. "No, my family wouldn't do that," you say? If only there wasn't mountains of probate cases to show otherwise. It's a difficult time and people react differently than we may expect them to.

Nor will the state care all that much that you left behind a detailed list tucked away in your nightstand of what you'd like to happen with your personal property. As diligently as you worked on that list, unless you convert it into a formal document like a will, fulfilling all legal requirements, it's essentially a wish list and not a given.

That is why coordinating your estate - writing a will, setting up a trust, getting your affairs in order - that's the nicest thing you can do for the family you'll leave behind.

Estate Planning to Figure out Who Takes Care of the Person with "the Stuff."

Estate planning is not just coordinating everything for after your passing. Estate planning also means coordinating everything in case of your incapacity. No one wants to talk about this one. 

Everyone assumes (hopes?) that they'll be fine up until they peacefully pass away in their sleep in old age. Or, alternatively, that perhaps death would come suddenly. Either way, no one accounts for some in between situation - where you're alive but you no longer are able to make medical decisions for yourself or financial decisions for yourself because of incapacity. 

Maybe you assume you don't need to have this thought because your spouse will care for you, or your children will. Won't they? Perhaps, yes. But, that's a lot of responsibility to put on top of that assumption. What if your children disagree on medical treatment for you? What if your spouse isn't as purposeful with financial decisions as you'd want them to be? What if, sadly, either predeceases you?

Adding a financial and a medical power of attorney into your estate planning allows you to think smartly about all these possibilities ahead of time and choose who you feel would make the decisions that most closely resemble yours and who is best suited to do so. 

Similarly, a living will is another tool in the estate planning arsenal at your disposal. This will allow you to lay out your wishes about things like life support and your end of life care and wishes. This too, left undone, can be a terrible responsibility on your family members, as these are heavy decisions to have to make. It's not something we want to think about. But, doing so allows us to retain some control and dignity at the end of our lives, and help our loved ones with an already difficult process.

Hopefully you'll never need any of these things and they'll just be papers in a safe somewhere that collect dust. But, there's no denying how important they become should you ever find yourself in a situation where you did need them after all.

You can't take all of the twists and turns out of life, but you can plan around some of the guess work.

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Maria Krishtul,

MK Law's

Principal Attorney