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Importance of estate planning

Many people in Michigan and elsewhere often find reasons and excuses to put off preparing a will. However, the failure to have basic estate planning in place can result in contested probate and long, drawn-out battles that can drain a family emotionally and financially.

Statistics bear out revealing numbers about families and financial matters. About 56 percent of families do not have an estate plan and only 48 percent of families have their possessions inventoried. In the absence of even a basic will, estranged relatives can demand part of the estate and could even receive more money than close loved ones, depending on the circumstances.

Every state has its own intestacy laws that determine how assets are divided in the absence of a valid testamentary directive, so people without estate plans will have no say in what happens to their property and money when they die. Usually, assets will go to a spouse, then a child, and then their other descendants. In the absence of descendants, the property goes to parents, siblings, siblings' descendants and grandparents. An estate plan that outlines the division of assets is especially important for blended families so that children from the first marriage receive what is rightfully theirs.

Apart from a will, most people don't know what paperwork they may need when planning an estate. A number of additional documents may be advisable, including powers of attorney, health care directives, living wills and other instruments. These documents can all be useful to both the preservation of assets during life as well as the direction of their distribution upon death, and their preparation and review may benefit from the assistance of an estate planning attorney.

Source: Main St, "Estate Planning Horrors: Don't Let Strangers Snatch Your Inheritance", Juliette Fairley, October 26, 2013

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