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Dorothea J. Kingsbury Estate Planning & Probate Attorney

Cleveland Ohio Legal Blog

Have you fully considered your choices for executor?

Estate planning means that you will need to focus on many aspects of your life and decide how you would want your affairs handled in the event of your death or if you need extended care. Because the closing of an estate holds so much importance, you will undoubtedly want to ensure that you give your surviving family the best chance at completing the process in a timely and smooth manner.

One of the biggest decisions made during the estate planning process that could affect your probate proceedings is who you choose to act as the executor of your estate. This person will need to have the ability to handle every step of the process to completely settle your remaining affairs and close your estate. While an immediate family member may first spring to mind, you may want to take certain considerations into account before fully making your decision.

Estate planning when one is separated from their spouse

Many Cleveland residents are separated from their spouse not currently living together, but the marriage has not been legally dissolved. This situation may make sense for their relationship, but it can have legal and estate planning repercussions if one of the spouses dies.

One problem is that estate plans typically name the spouse as the beneficiary. If these are not updated, and the spouse dies during the separation, even an estranged spouse is the beneficiary. The same is true for people who die without leaving a will, since Ohio law provides that at least some of the estate goes to the surviving spouse, whether estranged or not.

A letter of instruction can be a good estate plan addition

Many Ohio residents have taken the time to create an estate plan. Estate plans are important to allocating a person's assets upon their death and to direct their financial and medical needs in the event they become incapacitated. A letter of instruction is another estate planning tool that a person may want to create.

A letter of instruction is not a legal document but can be a good supplement to an estate plan by offering helpful information. A LOI is often used to provide information to the trustee of a special needs trust. The LOI can inform the trustee about the beneficiary, including their personality and likes and dislikes. It can communicate what they want the trustee to provide for the beneficiary, including health, education, maintenance and support along with further specific guidance that is important. LOIs can also include what to do with digital assets or how to care for their pets that may be left behind. An LOI can list where important documents are kept, who their financial advisor is and other important information that may not be evident in the will or trust.

Large percentage of Americans have not completed an estate plan

Many Cleveland area residents understand how important it is for a family to have an estate plan. An estate plan is not only used for transferring assets to the next generation, but it can also designate guardians, manage digital assets and help with health-related decisions. But, many Americans have not taken the time to create an estate plan.

A survey taken by shows that over 60 percent of Americans have no estate planning documents such as a will or a trust. Although most people understand that an estate plan is important, few have actually taken the time to create one. Although a larger percentage of older people do have a will or trust in place, younger people do not always understand how important they can be. Reasons given are that they don't have assets to leave to anyone or they haven't had time to complete an estate plan. Even if a person doesn't think they have any assets, a healthcare power of attorney, guardianship designation and healthcare directives are important.

What should be included in my estate plan?

There are several components of an effective and complete estate plan but if you are considering an estate plan, you may wonder what they are. It is important to keep in mind that estate planning can help create a more peaceful process down the road for surviving loved ones and can also provide peace of mind for the estate planner.

To begin with, a properly executed will is an essential component of any estate plan. A will outlines who the estate planner wants their property to go to. Trusts can be used on their own or in conjunction with a will as part of the estate planner's overall estate plan. A trust allows a third party to manage certain assets for the benefit of designated beneficiaries. There are different types of trust so it is helpful for estate planners to know what those are.

Incorporating charitable giving into an estate plan

Many Cleveland residents find it important to give back to others. Whether it be through their time or donations, area nonprofits always appreciate the help. Another way to help a charity is to include it in your estate plan.

Including charities in an estate plan is a way to leave a lasting legacy. Planned giving is a wonderful way for a person to support their favorite charities upon their death. A charitable remainder trust is one way to give to charity. Money is put into a trust which the beneficiary uses until their death for living expenses. Upon their death, the remainder of the trust is given to the charity. The income in the trust is tax free.

Your pet can be part of your estate plan

Studies show that having a pet can raise your level of joy and lower your stress. Whether you grew up with animals or had to wait until adulthood to welcome your first dog or cat, your pets are important parts of your life. Sometimes it seems as if they are the only beings that understand you.

Nevertheless, from a legal perspective, pets are property. If you do not make arrangements for your furry friend's care after your death, there is no guarantee that someone else will. The sad fact is that many beloved pets end up in shelters because their owners fail to adequately provide for them in their estate plans. When creating your estate plan, you have several options for remembering your pet.

Final arrangements planning

Many Cleveland area residents like the ability to plan. Planning ahead and knowing what will happen is comforting. In terms of estate planning, planning ahead helps families know what their loved ones' wishes are and can focus on more important matters. Final arrangements, a task usually left up to the remaining family members, is also something that can be pre-planned using estate planning tools.

Many people find it important to plan their final arrangements. It is possible to share funeral wishes in a will, which is enforceable, many times families don't go looking for the will until after their loved one has been put to rest. A better option would be completing a document called a Funeral Planning Declaration. Detailed instructions can be included about final arrangements and a person can be designated to carry out these wishes. Another option for final arrangements is to pre-plan a funeral with a local funeral director.

What should one consider before accepting the role of executor?

Making a decision as to who should be executor of one's estate is not always easy. The person designated as executor of an estate needs to be capable, organized and responsible. Sometimes a person in Cleveland chooses an attorney to serve in this role. However, other times a person will want to designate a friend or relative to fulfill this role. While this can be an honor, those who are asked to serve as the executor of a loved one's estate should make sure they can properly carry out their duties before accepting this responsibility.

First, it takes time to wind up a loved one's estate. There is paperwork to file, meetings with financial and legal professionals to attend and it takes time to travel and appear in court. Also, every state, including Ohio, has statutes covering what an executor's responsibilities are and the timeframe in which they must be completed. Those who accept the role as executor of an estate should make sure they have the time to meet their legal obligations.

Changes in law could warrant a review of one's trusts

Many people in Ohio spent the time to execute a detailed and solid trust that carefully outlines what they want done with their assets after they pass away. Therefore, they may think their estate planning duties are done and that no further action is needed. However, this can be a costly mistake to make. Estate plans, including trusts, should be reviewed periodically since changes in the law could alter the effect a person's trust may have on the trust beneficiaries in ways that the decedent may not have intended.

For example, in 2011 "portability" was introduced. It used to be the case that the reason a married couple would execute a trust was so the decedent's remaining estate tax exemption would not be wasted. However, with portability in place, the surviving spouse can still utilize what is left of the decedent's estate tax exemption. Therefore, a trust created prior to 2011 should be reviewed with the new portability laws in mind.

Good Advice. Real Solutions.

I am attorney Dorothea J. Kingsbury. I provide good advice and real solutions to challenging problems. I can help you choose and personalize estate planning instruments that meet your family's present and future needs. I can develop elder law strategies that ensure proper care for your loved ones. I can guide you through the probate/estate administration process when a family member has passed away. I can help make sure your interests are protected during your real estate transaction. I am here to make things easier.

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