If you have not yet prepared an estate plan, you may think estate planning merely entails creating a trust or a will. That’s part of it, but proper estate planning takes more, and in Georgia, it requires the guidance and insights of an Atlanta estate planning attorney.

What does proper estate planning accomplish? What does your estate plan need to address? Why will you require the guidance of a good estate planning lawyer? If you will keep reading, those questions will be answered in this brief introduction to estate planning in the State of Georgia.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that estate planning is exclusively for the rich and famous. If you have a family, own a business, have any significant assets, or if others count on you, your estate plan assures that your finances and assets will be handled properly after your death.

Without an estate plan, there is no guarantee that your assets will be distributed according to your wishes or that your instructions will be followed after your death. An estate plan also authorizes your loved ones to carry out your instructions while you are alive if you become incapacitated.

What Are the Elements of a Proper Estate Plan?

While every estate plan is different, and the details will hinge on your personal, family, and financial circumstances, almost all estate plans will include a:

  1. Trust and/or Last Will and Testament;
  2. Letter of intent;
  3. Durable power of attorney;
  4. Healthcare power of attorney;
  5. Beneficiary designations; and
  6. Guardianship designations.

About Wills and Trusts

A trust or a will should be a primary element of your estate plan, even if you do not own substantial properties or assets. Your will ensures that your property and assets will be distributed according to your wishes (provided the will complies with state laws).

A trust can limit estate taxes and reduce the likelihood of a dispute over your estate after your death. However, merely having a trust or a will, by itself, is not enough. The document must be precisely worded, and you’ll need an attorney to ensure the document is compliant with the law.

After reviewing your properties, assets, debts, and your current financial circumstances, an Atlanta estate planning lawyer will suggest a will or a specific type of trust that will work best for you.

About Letters of Intent

Your letter of intent is a document for the executor of your will or a specific beneficiary. It spells out what to do with a particular asset at the time of your incapacitation or death. A letter of intent can also make other special requests, such as indicating the details of your funeral arrangements.

A letter of intent had no legal power until 2021, but now it can be legally binding. In a dispute, it can tell a probate judge what your intentions were, and if your will is invalidated for any reason, it can indicate how your estate should be divided and distributed.

What Is a Durable Power of Attorney?

Everyone in this state who is age 18 or older should establish a durable power of attorney with guidance from a Georgia estate planning lawyer, because anyone could be suddenly and unexpectedly disabled or incapacitated.

A durable power of attorney allows someone you have designated (your “agent”) to act on your behalf when you cannot. Without a durable power of attorney, it may fall to a court to determine what happens to your assets, and the court’s choices may not be what you want.

A durable power of attorney gives your agent the authority to make real estate transactions and other financial and legal decisions in your name and on your behalf. You should probably name someone with financial knowledge – a relative, friend, or a professional advisor – as your agent.

Without a durable power of attorney, it is conceivable that your immediate family members could find themselves unable to do something as basic as cashing your checks or paying your bills.

What Is a Healthcare Power of Attorney?

A healthcare power of attorney document – in Georgia, it’s called an Advance Directive for Healthcare – allows someone you name, usually a spouse or another immediate family member, to make healthcare decisions for you should you become incapacitated.

The person you name needs to be someone you trust with your life, because that is exactly what you will be doing. An Advance Directive for Healthcare addresses specific questions and concerns about medical end-of-life treatments.

About Beneficiary Designations

Many financial accounts and insurance policies can pass to beneficiaries without being included in a will or a trust. Proper estate planning ensures that your beneficiary designations on these accounts and policies are specified and kept up-to-date.

When you do not designate a beneficiary, or when the person you’ve named has died or cannot be your beneficiary for some other reason, it may fall to a court to determine what happens to your financial accounts and insurance policies.

Your beneficiaries should be mentally competent and age 21 or older. Otherwise, someone might have a legal objection and a reason to challenge your beneficiary designation in court.

About Guardianship Designations

If you are the parent of a minor child, or if you are planning to be a parent, the importance of selecting a guardian – someone who would care for your child or children in a worst-case scenario – cannot be overstated.

The guardian you select – most people choose a family member or close friend – should be someone who is stable, sound financially, and genuinely willing to act as a guardian.

Without a guardianship designation, a court will decide who raises your child or children, and it might not be someone you would choose.

When Should You Begin Planning Your Estate?

We all know that the future cannot be predicted and that we need to prepare for whatever tomorrow may bring. While the time to begin planning your estate is today, proper estate planning cannot be done under pressure or in haste. Helping you prepare for the future adequately and effectively is the job – and the goal – of a good estate planning lawyer.

The right Atlanta estate planning attorney can ensure that your estate plan is easy to understand, that nothing is forgotten, and that you have plenty of opportunity to consider and review your estate planning options. Your estate planning attorney will also help you keep your plan updated as your needs and circumstances change in the future.