Estate planning is the process of identifying your future needs and putting mechanisms in place to account for both the inevitabilities as well as the possibilities of what the future holds. While most people put off estate planning until later in life, the reality is that estate planning offers significant benefits to individuals and families in every life stage. At the Harris Law Firm, our Mississippi estate planning lawyers have extensive, hands-on experience helping our clients meet their goals. We simplify the estate planning process, focusing on what is important to you and your family.
Types of Estate Planning Documents
When considering an estate plan, start by realizing that every estate plan is unique. Every family has its own goals and desires, and an estate plan should take this into account. Thus, while every estate plan is different, they tend to include some of the same documents.
Last Will and Testament
A last will and testament, or a “will,” is a legal document in which you determine how you want your property distributed when you die. If you die without a will in Mississippi, your assets will still pass on to your loved ones. However, you will not get a say in who is first in line to inherit or how the court divides up your assets. Instead, your state’s default rules, called intestacy laws, will make those decisions. These laws predetermine who receives what, based solely on their relationship to you. Additionally, when you create a will, you can also name a guardian for any minor children, avoiding the need for guardianship proceedings.
At its most basic level, a trust is a relationship between three parties: the person who creates the trust (the grantor), the person who manages the trust (the trustee), and the people for whom the trust was established (beneficiaries). Trusts are an integral part of most estate plans, as they offer a wide range of benefits depending on a family’s needs. For example, by creating a trust, you can accomplish any of the following:
- Reduce your estate’s tax exposure;
- Keep young or financially inexperienced beneficiaries from accessing their entire inheritance all at once;
- Provide for the ongoing support of a loved one with special needs;
- Protect estate assets from bankruptcy, divorce, or creditors;
- Facilitate the Medicaid-application process; and
- Limit the assets that must pass through the probate process.
Trusts generally fall into one of two categories: revocable and irrevocable trusts. Revocable trusts offer greater flexibility but fewer benefits. For example, you can modify or terminate a revocable trust at any time. However, irrevocable trusts offer the strongest benefits and protections.
Power of Attorney Documents
A power of attorney is a legal document that, once executed, grants another person the ability to make important decisions on your behalf. In the estate planning context, powers of attorney play an important role in incapacity planning. For example, if you suddenly become unable to manage your own financial affairs, you may want someone to step in and help out. By having a power of attorney in place, you can greatly simplify this process. Most powers of attorney only become effective once the person creating the document becomes incapacitated.
What Is Probate?
Probate is the legal process by which a judge validates a decedent’s will and distributes their assets. An estate must go through probate regardless of whether the deceased has a will—unless all of their assets are in accounts that transfer upon death. Accounts that transfer automatically on death are any payable-on-death (POD) accounts, transfer-on-death (TOD) accounts, any accounts with named beneficiaries, and any property or asset held in combination with a co-owner.
For all other assets, probate is required. And before your heirs receive any inheritance, the executor must gather all estate assets, determine the value of the estate, and pay off all estate debts. Often, probate is both time-consuming and expensive.
Probate also opens the door to litigation, such as a will contest. Thus, it is typically beneficial to consider probate-avoidance strategies. In many cases, restructuring assets and other probate-avoidance strategies are relatively straightforward ways to lessen the burden placed on family members.
Contact an Experienced Mississippi Estate Planning Attorney Today
If you do not yet have an estate plan, or it’s been several years since you last updated your plan, reach out to the Harris Law Firm. While there are many estate planning lawyers in Mississippi, few exhibit the professionalism, dedication, and in-depth knowledge as those at the Harris Law Firm. For more than 40 years, we’ve worked with countless clients, creating estate planning documents they can count on for years to come. We handle all aspects of estate planning, as well as probate litigation, including will contests. To learn more and to schedule a free case review with a Mississippi estate planning lawyer today, contact our office. You can also connect with us through our online contact form.