Estate Planning: Who Needs it?

I am frequently asked by friends and neighbors the following question: “Do I really need an estate plan?  I’m not a Rockefeller, after all.”  My typical response is: “You already have an estate plan.  You just need to study it and decide if you’re comfortable with it.” 

Your default estate plan can be found in Title 75, Chapter 2 of the Utah Code.  Because many people die without a valid Will or a Trust in place (i.e., “dying intestate”), all states in the U.S. have enacted inheritance laws that govern the distribution of an individual’s land and personal property upon their deaths.  In some situations this method of distribution achieves reasonably fair results.  However, the lawmakers that wrote these laws had to make a host of assumptions about your family that might not be true at all.  If your unique family situation deviates at all from what the lawmakers at the state legislature pictured, then this “default” estate plan might in fact prove to be a disaster from your perspective.

For example, the law presumes that all of your children should be treated equally in the division of your property.  Do you agree?  What about step-children?  Or adopted children?  Or children born out of wedlock? 

The law also presumes that your children and your spouse are financially responsible enough to manage the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars of life insurance that they may receive at your death.  Is that true in your case? 

For those with minor or disabled children, the law presumes that certain people should care for them after you are gone.  You may not agree.

There are a host of other assumptions made by these laws that, in my experience, are often objectionable to families when applied to their circumstances.  An experienced estate planning attorney can help you identify the unique circumstances in your family that require specific planning above and beyond what is found in the current state intestacy laws.  You should seriously consider creating a plan that will ensure that your wishes (and not those of the legislature) are carried out.

This article was submitted by J. RobRoy Platt, Attorney at Law. He can be reached at 801-769-1313.