He who is of a calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition youth and age are equally a burden—Plato, Greek philosopher, mathematician and writer.
An estate plan helps you provide for yourself and your loved ones in the future. Even if you feel your estate is modest, a will or other legal agreement, such as a living trust, is necessary in order to be sure your wishes will be carried out. Additionally, a well thought out estate plan can save you and your heirs money later by the possible reduction of estate taxes, probate costs and other administrative expenses.
To repeat a favorite Senior Moments reminder: Don’t think you don’t have an estate plan just because you have never personally written one. If you have not taken care of this vital planning, the State of Maryland has a will just waiting for you when you die. It is the provisions of the Maryland intestacy law. Look on the internet.
In their posting, “Facts About Wills”, the Maryland Register of Wills Website, at http://registers.maryland.gov/main/packets/wills.html makes this comment: “Without a will, the intestate laws of the State of Maryland direct the order of priority for those individuals to serve as personal representative of the estate; what heirs are entitled to receive the assets of the estate; and in some instances the Orphans’ Court shall make the appointment of a guardian for your minor children.”
Maybe it’s just me, but I wouldn’t want the Court to decide who should be the executor of my estate (called Personal Representative in Maryland), how my estate should be divided among my loved ones, and I would never want them to name a guardian for my children. Is that what you want? If not, get busy and and, at least, write a will.
You can even write a will in your own handwriting. It’s called a holographic will and, in order to be legal in Maryland, it must be signed by two witnesses who are not beneficiaries of your estate.
Remember, as we have often discussed, an out-of-date will or trust is often no better than the absence of each! Update your estate plan regularly. Many occurrences can make it obsolete practically overnight, including changes in state and federal law.
Consider doing the following legal check-up: (1) Do you have all your important personal documents together in a secure place? (2) Do you have basic legal documents that direct what happens to your assets when you die? (3) Do you have basic legal documents that ensure that someone you know and trust will make personal decisions and handle your financial and medical affairs in the event that you are unable to do so? (4) Do you have all your financial records on hand, in some order, and up to date? (5) Do you have a resource, such as an attorney or accountant, in the event you require professional advice or assistance? (6) Are you receiving all the public and private benefits to which you are entitled? If not, do you know when and where to apply for them? (7) Do you know how your assets are titled and why this is a crucial issue? (8) Do you have a sufficient amount of insurance, or too much insurance? (8) Do you know which changes in your life will require you to do a review of your legal documents?
There are so many estate-reduction techniques to help you avoid paying “death” taxes when your life ends. “Death Taxes” is many people’s name for Estate Taxes. Although the federal government exemption for each individual now tops out a bit over five million, the State of Maryland still has a one million dollar exemption. See an elder law estate planner to learn many ways to legally reduce the size of your estate at death.
When people come into the office to discuss their wills, I always suggest that they consider naming what I call a “catastrophic” beneficiary. Did you know that if all your primary beneficiaries predecease you, by law your estate might go to distant relatives you don’t even know? Or, failing that, to the state? After you’ve listed all the people you want to remember, ask yourself, “Now what if none of them is alive to receive it?” Then complete your plans by naming a final beneficiary—perhaps your church or your favorite charity. These are institutions that will live for years to come.
What kind of experiences do you have with the Bowie-Crofton area Nursing Homes and Assisted Living facilities? I would love to hear from you about your personal experiences. There are many new patient-centered programs for care-giving facilities, including the Eden Alternative and the Green House programs. This column will begin explaining and exploring some of those soon. If you would like to share your experiences, please contact me in care of this newspaper, or at the e-mail address listed below.
Thanks for reading. Stay well. See you next week.