Typically, intestate law divides the decedent's estate between the surviving spouse and any living children; However, many people are surprised by the actual distribution of assets made by state law. Even if the decedent does not have any children, the spouse generally will not inherit the entire estate. Further, if you have minor children at the time of your death, the court will require a fiduciary (e.g., a guardian or trustee) to be appointed; to receive and manage the property the children inherit. This can be a cumbersome and expensive process, and requires court supervision throughout the time the children are no longer minors.
WHO WILL TAKE CARE YOUR CHILDREN
Most importantly, an estate plan gives you the opportunity to designate a guardian for your children if your spouse does not survive you. It also allows you to have better insight than a court into which of your relatives or friends will best be able to care for your children, both emotionally and financially. Your estate plan can put this designation in place, and provide financial stability for your children
REDUCE FAMILY TENSION
An estate plan can also simplify and remove family tension in the probate process for those that survive you. For example, a properly designed estate plan will prevent probate litigation, so that your family will not be fighting over your assets.
WHO IS YOUR HEALTH CARE AGENT?
An estate plan can also address your long term health care needs and issues of critical care with a living will. For example, you can designate a health care agent to make health care decisions about your treatment and hospitalization in accordance with your wishes and instructions, in the event that you are unable to make medical decisions on your own behalf.
PLAN OR PAY!
Your estate plan will also allow you to properly plan and shield your assets from estate taxes in order to protect your wealth for your heirs. Planning for your estate will also identify potential Medicaid issues that may arise in the near future. There are a number of planning options that will be available to you and your spouse if you plan early enough. One of the most important things you can do is to make sure an estate plan is in place to protect yourself and your family's future.