Estate Planning: More than Just Wills

Most people naturally avoid thinking about their own mortality. So it’s not surprising that only about 33% of Americans have an estate plan, and just 46% say they have a will. That means more people than not are leaving what happens to them and their assets in case of disability or death up to others.

Anyone with assets should, at a minimum, have a will that sets out how they want them distributed upon death. Estate planning is an even better option, further protecting your assets and making sure they go to the people and organizations you prefer.

Peters Law Firm specializes in Estate Planning, helping people put their legal, financial, and medical affairs in order. Our experienced probate attorneys assist clients in drafting estate plans, trusts, and wills that make their wishes clear and help them save on income, inheritance, and estate taxes.

Estate Planning: A Smart Choice for Everyone

A third of people without wills or estate plans believe they don’t have enough assets to pass on to loved ones. However, you don’t need to be wealthy to benefit from an estate plan. Other advantages include:

  1. Safeguarding you and your assets. Yes, estate planning protects your beneficiaries, but it also protects you in the event you become incapacitated or can’t make decisions for yourself. By designating a power of attorney or healthcare proxy, you’re assured any financial and medical decisions made on your behalf adhere to your wishes.
  2. Beneficiary protection. Estate plans typically protect young or financially dependent beneficiaries. But they also protect assets from frivolous lawsuits or in family law matters like divorce.
  3. Avoid big tax bites. Even if an estate is below the federal estate tax exclusion rate, which in 2023 is $12,920,000 per individual, other issues are at stake. For instance, while Iowa does not have an estate tax, its inheritance tax is currently in effect until 2025. Nebraska has a county inheritance tax that could apply in certain circumstances.
  4. Meet philanthropic goals. Legacy planning can help shape how you’re remembered, leaving money or other assets to charities, educational institutions, or cultural organizations. Some people choose to create non-profit family foundations to manage charitable giving within a formal structure, making grants or donations to various causes, projects, and other non-profits.
  5. Prevent family discord. Most estate planning attorneys have witnessed family conflict when preparing estate plans. The person preparing the plan can also have concerns that family relationships will deteriorate after they’re gone. While it’s impossible to control what happens after you die, a well-crafted plan does make your wishes clear and can help keep peace within the family, particularly if there’s a business succession plan involved.

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What Happens if You Die Without a Will or Estate Plan?

Estate planning doesn’t mean you’ll die soon; it’s simply preparing for end-of-life issues and controlling your legacy after death. In fact, many people who’ve put off the process say they feel relief and peace of mind once it’s done.

So, what happens if you die without a will (intestate)? Iowa and Nebraska have similar intestate succession laws. In brief, if you’re married and die without a will, what your spouse receives depends on whether you have other living descendants like children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, including from previous relationships. Keep in mind that only assets that pass through the probate process are subject to intestate succession laws. Many assets, including real estate with a transfer on death deed, funds in a retirement account, 401(k), or IRA with a named beneficiary, and life insurance proceeds with a named beneficiary, aren’t affected. These assets pass to the beneficiary you named, whether or not you have a will.

While it’s unlikely the state will get your estate if you die without a will or estate plan, having one is always a good idea.

The Best Time to Plan Your Estate

If you want yourself, your loved ones, and your assets fully protected, now is the time to talk to an estate planning attorney. Remember, the plan you create today can be modified over the years as circumstances change. When you consider the peace of mind it brings to everyone involved, it’s one of the most loving things you can do for those you care about.

Contact Peters Law Firm online today or call [phone] to speak to one of our estate planning attorneys today.

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