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HOW DO I KNOW WHETHER I HAVE AN ESTATE?

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By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

Whenever I meet somebody for the first time, whether on a plane, at a family gathering, or just in some social event, inevitably I am asked what I do for a living. When I explain that I am an estate planning attorney a common response that I get is that the individual will say, “Well I don’t really own anything. I guess I don’t have an estate so I don’t really need any kind of estate planning.” Another common response is that people will say, “I can’t afford estate planning. It is just too expensive for me.”

When these statements are made to me in the form of a question, I usually take the time to explain to people why it’s important that they have an estate plan and how having an estate plan can actually be less expensive for them and their family in the long run. Here are the three most important things I try to explain to these individuals.

1. Everyone Has An Estate

The first thing I explain is that in the state of Idaho, and in most states, regardless of whether you are rich or poor, and regardless of whether you think you have one or not, every adult has an estate. An estate is made up of all the items that a person owns and all the debts that they owe to other individuals. While it’s true that some estates have more property or assets in them, just about every adult has something that they own. This could be a house, it could be a car, it could be the money in the bank, or even the clothes on their back. Everyone owns something.

More importantly, when it comes to debts, most of us have these. These debts could be a mortgage, or a car payment, or our utilities, credit cards, or just plain money that we owe to a family member or a friend. Regardless of what we have, each of these kinds of debts is also included in our estate.

2. Everyone Needs Estate Planning

The second thing I explain to these people is that regardless of whether they are rich or poor, every person needs estate planning. When most people hear that term, “estate planning,” the first thing they think of is a last will and testament. Most people are familiar with this document because it’s the document that is often portrayed in TV shows and in movies.

While a last will and testament is an important document, it is not the only part of estate planning that exists. In addition to a last will and testament, many individuals will use a trust as a way of protecting their property and making sure that it’s distributed to the individuals that they want after they die. Additionally, most people would benefit from having a power of attorney for their property and finances, and a separate power of attorney for their medical and healthcare.

These powers of attorney give you the opportunity to choose who you want to take care of you, and your property, money, and healthcare and medical decisions if you are no longer able to do these for yourself. Most importantly by having a power of attorney you avoid the expense and cost of a legal guardianship court proceedings and the potential for your family to disagree and fight over who should be appointed.

3. Having an Estate Plan is Less Expensive than Not Having One

The third thing I try to explain to these individuals is that while it does cost some money to get an estate plan done, it is far less expensive than not having an estate plan. As an example I talk with these individuals, especially those who are parents of young children, about how they can protect their children and the money and finances that would go to these children in the event the parents were to pass away.

Without having an estate plan in place it’s very likely that their family would have to make a decision about who would become the guardian of those children. Well-meaning family members may not agree on who the right person is. Grandparents, or aunts and uncles from either side of the family could feel that they are the most qualified to take on this responsibility. When family disagree and fight over these decisions it leads to a very expensive legal battle that most often results in destroyed relationships.

Enlist the Help of an Estate Planning Attorney

You have an estate and you would benefit from creating a customized estate plan. If you have any questions about creating your own estate plan or how to distribute your estate in a way that helps others, we can help. Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208-232-6101 for a free consultation with Lane Erickson and the Racine Olson team of Estate Planning attorneys in Idaho. You can also email Lane Erickson directly at lve@racinelaw.net. We will answer your questions and will help you solve your Idaho Estate Planning problems.

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