Newborn children, international travel, major surgery and COVID-19. From joyous and exciting occasions to scary unknowns, major life events often prompt clients to decide it’s time to get a Will. Lack of an estate plan can be a major source of anxiety and the attorneys at Wandro & Associates, P.C., can help alleviate that stress. This article will address some general estate planning basics and recent COVID-19 related legal updates to allow for legally valid documents while maintaining social distancing protocols.
What is a Will?
A Will is a formal legal document that governs distribution of your property (including real estate, bank and investment accounts, physical possessions and any other property titled to you at the time of your death). For a Will to be valid according to Iowa law it must be witnessed by two disinterested (no one who would receive property through the Will) witnesses and a Notary Public. A Will does not change beneficiary designations made on certain types of investments, like Life Insurance.
What happens if I don’t have a Will?
If you do not have a Will at the time of your death than any property you own will be distributed according to “intestate” law, as governed by the Iowa Code. Generally, Iowa intestate law provides that a spouse is the first to inherit, followed by children (and descendants of any predeceased children). If you don’t have a spouse or children, then parents (or the survivor of them if one has passed away) are next in line, followed by siblings (or their descendants if any are predeceased). This pattern continues with more remote relatives, ultimately concluding with the dreaded escheat to the state of Iowa. An attorney can advise you regarding how these laws would apply in your particular case but having a valid Will in place at the time of your death will assure that your property is distributed the way you want after your death.
What is Probate and should I avoid it?
Probate is the formal process through the Court to transfer and re-title your property to the beneficiaries or heirs of your estate. Probate has become a “dirty” word in some financial advising circles, with different estate planning devices and plans designed to avoid it at all costs. Frankly, Probate isn’t nearly as bad as it has been made out to be in different circles. It provides a venue to be sure that claims of creditors are paid, beneficiaries and heirs receive notice, and provides needed oversight to be sure that the intentions of the Testator (you) are followed. In some circumstances Revocable Trusts and other mechanism to avoid Probate are appropriate, but this is a more detailed conversation to have with your attorney.
What kind of property is not distributed according to my Will?
Property that has a valid beneficiary designation, such as life insurance, 401Ks, IRAs and certain types of bank accounts will pass to your beneficiaries without having to go through Probate. Additionally, property titled with another person as Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship (real estate, bank accounts and other assets) will transfer to the surviving joint tenant upon the death of the first tenant.
What decisions do I need to make?
Estate plans can be as complex as you can imagine, but at the base level most people need to decide “who gets what (or how much)” and “who’s in charge.” Many clients are familiar with the term “Executor.” This is the person named in the Will who has the responsibility of gathering your assets, paying your debts and distributing the remainder to your beneficiaries according to the Will. What many clients don’t realize is that the Executor only has that authority once the Will has been filed for Probate and “Letters of Appointment” are issued by the Clerk of Court. Choosing a responsible Executor (and Back-Up) is one of the essential elements in estate planning.
Do I need a Revocable/Family/Living/Testamentary Trust?
Maybe. In certain circumstances, a Trust can be an excellent tool in the estate planning “toolbox” in conjunction with your Will. Determining if a Trust is the right fit will depend on a number of variables specific to your circumstance and is another decision you should make in conjunction with your attorney. If you are planning to leave money to or for the benefit of young children, a Trust will allow for continued oversight, investment and distributions for decades after your death. However, if you have adult beneficiaries and just want your property to go directly to them, it may not be necessary.
What about a Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney (and/or Financial Power of Attorney)?
Every Will that gets signed at Wandro & Associates, P.C. is accompanied by a Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney. If you would like, and believe the circumstances are appropriate, we will also gladly include a Durable Financial Power of Attorney. Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney(s) are essential for providing instruction to your medical providers and designating the person(s) who will have authority to make medical decisions for you in the event you are unable?
I’m practicing social distancing and don’t want witnesses and a notary breathing on me, can I still get a Will?
Yes. On March 22, 2020, Governor Reynolds issued a proclamation suspending in-person requirements for witnessing and notarizing certain legal documents, including Wills. The attorneys and staff at Wandro & Associates will work with you to set up a secure method by which your Will can be witnessed and notarized, while maintaining appropriate social distancing protocol.
What do I need to do to get started?
Call or e-mail Wandro & Associates, P.C. for a free initial consult to determine if working with us is a good fit for your estate planning needs. If so, an estate planning attorney will work with you directly to obtain the necessary information to prepare your estate planning documents. Once those meet your satisfaction, we will set up a secure method for your estate planning documents to be validly signed, witnessed and notarized.
Have questions? We have answers.
Call us at (515) 281-1475 or email us at email@example.com.
This Wandro & Associates Update is intended to inform firm clients and friends about legal developments, including recent decisions of various courts and administrative bodies. Nothing in this Practice Update should be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion, and readers should not act upon the information contained in this Update without seeking the advice of legal counsel.