Estate planning is not limited to people with a large amount of assets. It is not in any way, shape, or form exclusive to wealthy individuals or wealthy families. Estate planning is a means of creating a strategy to distribute your assets after your death to ensure that those assets go to the people that you want them to go to. It is more than just a will. Although it is possible to get only a will, there are a number of other documents that, together, help create a clear plan should a number of situations occur. A good estate plan prevents situations where your family does not know what you want during times of physical or mental incapacitation, or even after your death.

An estate plan also aims to answer questions about your children, such as who’s going to take care of those children and how are they going to be taken care of. Providing for children is the number one concern for parents and a good estate plan will help ensure the children are well cared for and provided for in the event of your passing.

What happens if someone dies without a will or an estate plan?

Unfortunately, it is very common for someone to die without a will or an estate plan. Almost half of people over age fifty are without an estate plan which leaves their family to make all the decisions. In South Carolina, assets of the deceased spouse are divided between the surviving spouse and any children of the spouses. Now, you have a situation where the spouse owns assets with her children, and they must come to an agreement before selling those assets. For families with minor children, an accident that leaves both parents incapacitated or dead can lead to contested Court hearings between other family members regarding the children. Without an estate plan that appoints a guardian for the children, the parents may not get to choose who cares for their children. Without the plan, the Court is left with the obligation of deciding for you, without the benefit of your desires, best wishes, or intentions.

How often should someone review their estate plan?

Typically, we suggest a person review their estate plan once a year to ensure they still agree with the provisions. However, we suggest an immediate review if some life changing event occurs. For instance, if the guardian you named in the Will is separating or going through a divorce with their spouse, you may want to consider another guardian to ensure the children go to a stable home. We at the De Bruin Law Firm will review your documents every three years or immediately if the law changes that may affect you. It’s no different than going to a doctor for a routine checkup. After 3 years, we would like to sit down for a conversation and see if anything significant has changed. We might want to relook at how your estate plan has been handled thus far.

We want you to contact us if you even suspect that a situation may impact your current estate plan. We have seen situations where a beneficiary that stood to receive a large inheritance is addicted to drugs. We can change the plan to ensure the inheritance would instead be used for drug treatment or withheld until the beneficiary is off drugs and clean for at least a year. Without that provision, the beneficiary would have received the inheritance and most likely would have used it quickly on their addiction.

Other changes are necessary when a beneficiary becomes disabled and in need of government assistance. In these situations, we would need to change the estate plan to prevent money or assets going directly to the disabled person since that distribution may disqualify the beneficiary from receiving government assistance such as Medicaid. Instead of going directly to the beneficiary, we can ensure the assets go into a trust and used for the beneficiary’s wellbeing and support. That change of control over the asset, will prevent the beneficiary from disqualification of needed government assistance.

What are the basic items entailed in an estate plan?

The most common of all items in an estate plan is the last will and testament. The will directs where your assets will go after your death, who will care for minor children if both parents are deceased, the deceased’s desired for funeral arrangements, and who is appointed to carry out the distribution of assets.

In situations where you can no longer make medical decisions for yourself, a Medical Power of Attorney executed prior to the incapacitation, directs an agent you appoint to make those medical decisions on your behalf. The Medical Power of Attorney is for permanent and temporary incapacitation.

The Advance Directive or Living Will makes known your desires regarding the end of your life. It may inform the doctors that you want to die naturally and prevent life sustaining measures if you are in a permanent vegetative state or terminally ill. Again, these two medical documents are only used when you cannot make medical decisions for yourself due to incapacitation.

Another common document in estate plans is a trust. The most common and basic type of trust is a revocable trust. This trust allows you to put assets in the name of the trust to be passed outside probate. We commonly refer to these trusts as Probate Avoidance Trusts. Instead of your assets going through the probate process and incurring probate fees, a revocable trust can distribute the assets in trust to the beneficiaries immediately or in accordance to your plan. There are many types of trusts that achieve different goals.

What qualities should someone look for when retaining an estate planning attorney?

In any professional relationship, the first thing you should look for is trust. You want to be able to know that they are going to handle your situation in a professional manner. Our firm is made up of three family members dedicated to helping our community and clients. That dedication is the keystone to everything we do and in every aspect of our daily functions. Our clients know that what we suggest is in their best interests and that we have a desire to see them succeed or protected.

When searching for an estate planning attorney, it is also important to select someone who is experienced in estate planning. When you go in for your consultation, it is important to ask if the attorney has handled cases or estates like yours before. At the De Bruin Law Firm, our estate planning attorneys are experienced and have handled estate planning issues for decades.

For more information on Estate Planning in South Carolina, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (864) 982-5930 today.

Aaron De Bruin

Aaron De Bruin is an Estate Planning and Criminal Defense attorney serving Greenville, SC and the surrounding upstate. Aaron fights for the rights of every one of his clients works hard to make sure they are treated fairly – no matter how small or large a legal case may be.