Useful information to help guide
your probate process

Have you thought about what will happen to your pet in the event that you suffer a critical illness or pass away? It’s a tough subject to consider, but it’s a vital one to address sooner, rather than later.

As the AARP points out:

“Animals who outlive their owners face uncertain fates. Under the best circumstances, a family member or friend cares for your pet for the rest of its life. If not, your pet goes to a shelter, is euthanized, or is simply let out the front door. The Humane Society of the United States estimates six to eight million dogs and cats enter shelters annually. Only half are adopted.”

So, what steps can you take to protect and provide for your pet in a difficult time? Here are a few things to keep in mind…

Your Pet Is Your Property

It’s important to understand that while you may think of your furry friend as a full member of your family, the reality is that your pet, under the eyes of the law, is generally classified as your property.

Adults over 65 make up an enormous chunk of the U.S. population – yet even still, they are targeted for scams, fraud, and financial abuse at a shockingly high rate.

According to a recent report from the FTC, a staggering 18% of consumers aged 70 or older reported that they lost money to fraud over the course of 2017. Americans 80 or over also tended to lose more per scam, compared to younger generations; on average, seniors lost a whopping $1092 per incident in 2017, compared to $400 for those aged 20-29.

Looking at another metric, most victims of financial exploitation fall between the ages of 80 and 89 – and only about one in forty-four cases of financial elder abuse ever get reported, according to the National Adult Protective Services Association.

In some ways, the only real constant in life is change.

New people come in and out of your sphere of orbit. You move from one city to another. You open new financial accounts and close old ones.

On a personal and fiscal level, your circumstances are always in flux – sometimes in major ways, sometimes in small ways you may not even consider worthy of notice. As such, it’s important to think of your estate plan as a living, breathing thing – one that can be open to changes and ready to adapt to whatever new circumstances your life throws at you.

As we’ve noted before, estate planning is typically not a “one and done” affair, but rather an ongoing process. With this in mind, it’s important to have a grasp on the different ways you may revise or edit your estate planning documents over time.

When it comes to your will and testament, often thought of as the cornerstone of a functional estate plan, one crucial concept to understand is the codicil.

Broadly speaking, probate is the process through which a deceased person’s assets are distributed, as overseen by the court system. Probate is an important step in the estate administration process, and is designed to help ensure that the decedent’s debts are met and their assets disbursed fairly – not only in line with their wishes, but also in compliance with all state and local laws.

In practice, however, the probate process can be slow going and expensive. It’s often a complex and time-consuming effort for your loved ones, and it may expose sensitive or personal information about yourself or your possessions to the public record.

For these reasons and more, many people take steps to help as many of their assets as possible bypass the probate process entirely.

Weighing your options? Here are a few steps that may help some of your assets avoid probate, helping expedite the process, preserve your privacy, and provide for your loved ones in a trying time:

1.) Establish Joint Ownership

Jane Austen once wrote that “it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

A more modern version of that quote may read a little more like this: “it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a senior in possession of a good fortune, must be the target of scammers and con artists.”

That’s a flowery way to address something very true - and very frightening - for many older adults. The reality is that seniors are targeted by scams at an alarming rate, and this problem is only going to become more prevalent as time goes on.

Seniors and Scams: Who Is At Risk?

Part of the reason why scams are on the rise is the general “graying” of the American population; as the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports, the number of Americans 65 and older “will reach more than 20 percent of the U.S. population in 2030. That’s up from 13 percent in 2012.”

The estate planning conversation is one of the toughest you can have with your loved ones – and it’s also one of the hardest topics to think about on your own behalf.

It can be daunting to carve out the time it takes to consider your assets and plan for your family’s financial prospects, let alone to grapple with thoughts about your own health and wellbeing. But, with that being said, it’s important to educate yourself on what goes into the estate planning and administration process – before it’s too late to set yourself and your family up with a more secure future.

There’s no time like the present to get started! Here are some thoughts on three common estate planning questions, which may have crossed your mind at one point or another…

1.) "Am I Really Old Enough to Need a Will?"

Preparing your estate can be a long, tedious, and emotionally taxing process. Perhaps this is why so many people don’t give estate planning its proper due - until it’s too late.

Indeed, according to recent reports, more than half of all American adults do not have a valid will and testament in place. For that reason, many people who do draw up a will have an unfortunate tendency to consider things conclusively settled and done.

After all, with a will, you’re accounting for the distribution of your assets, establishing who will act as your executor, and naming guardians for your children… So you must be good to go, right?

Unfortunately, even with a will, you’re not quite out of the woods yet.

While your will is an incredibly important estate planning document, it’s crucial to realize that it is not the only thing that matters when it comes to estate planning and administration.

Estate planning is a multi-faceted, ongoing process with lots of moving parts that must all be accounted for. In fact, there are many common estate planning matters that fall outside of the purview of a will, such as…

While most of us prefer not to think about it, the reality is that disaster can strike at any time. In truth, a critical illness or accident could leave you incapacitated at any moment.

Should that time come, don’t you want to take steps now to ensure that your family is cared for, and your wealth protected?

That’s where a power of attorney comes in. This is an incredibly important legal mechanism, allowing you to plan ahead for circumstances where you may be unable to manage your own medical or financial decisions - but it’s not something you should plunge into without doing a little bit of research.

Power of Attorney, Defined

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