Do I Really Need A Trust Or Will?

Holland, MI Will & Trust Attorney

You are not required in any way to have a will or a trust, and there are many people who die without having set up either one. However, there is often a risky price to pay, typically falling on the shoulders of your loved ones, for not having a will or a trust. The best gift you can give yourself, and your family, is to have your affairs in order and tell them what your expectations are.

Should I have a trust? A trust is a legal document that sets forth what happens to your minor children or your personal property, real property, and financial assets, if they are included in the trust. However, a trust has unique qualities that allow a person that you designate, named a trustee, to carry out your wishes sometimes well after you have died. For example, if you have minor children and your trust is named as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy, your trustee can hold that life insurance money and even invest it until your minor children have completed college or a trade school or reached some other milestone that you have specified in your trust. Without the trust, your minor child may be entitled to all of the life insurance money at age 18, which may not be something you want. Further, until age 18, without a trust or trustee to manage that money, the court will be required to appoint a conservator to manage the money for your minor children until they reach the age of 18. This can be costly and against what your true wishes are. There may be other reasons to have a trust, like minimizing tax burdens, or if you have a house, cottage, or other real property that you would like to leave to more than one person.

Are wills and trusts worth the cost? As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. If you pay nothing, the likelihood that your estate is not distributed according to how you want, is the greatest. Although, wills and trusts are relatively inexpensive as compared to the cost of hiring a conservator or other professional, or of going through a lengthy probate process, particularly if there is a dispute over your children or your assets. Spending a little money up front will help protect you and your family from having a judge make important decisions.

Why should I meet with an attorney rather than download a form from the internet? There’s no question that the internet has made fill-in-the-blank wills and trusts accessible to everyone. Buyer beware! We have seen far too many people who have downloaded wills or trusts from the internet, but because of the signing requirements or the wording of the document, it has been either invalid in court or it does not achieve the customized goals of the client. Estate planning with an attorney is the best way to ensure that your own individual and unique needs are met. Each person’s family, assets, and wishes are unique to them, and a pre-printed form often times cannot achieve your goals, and sadly, can be missing the legal wording or signatures to make it valid under Michigan law.

What is a will? A will is a legal document that sets forth your wishes regarding what should happen when you die.  A will does not keep the state from taking a cut of your estate or keep your estate out of probate court.

Why should you have a will? A will is the most simple way to distribute your assets after you die.  Through a will, you can:

-Designate how you want your assets to be distributed after probate is completed
-Name a personal representative (formerly known as an executor) to be the person in charge of carrying out your wishes
-Name a guardian or conservator for your minor children in the event that you and their other parent have both died

What is a trust? A trust, also known as a revocable living trust, like a will is a legal document that sets forth your wishes regarding what should happen when you die.  However, unlike a will, a trust is a private thing.  No one besides you, your trustees, and your beneficiaries need ever know the full contents of your trust.  Further, it will keep your estate out of probate court and will keep the state from taking a cut.

Why should you have a trust? A trust is the best way to protect your assets and ensure your final wishes are carried out after you pass.  A trust protects your assets from the state and creditors.  Through a trust, you can:

-Designate a funeral representative to carry out any funeral, cremation, burial, or other instructions
-Divide your assets according to how you want them to be distributed without the state taking a cut
-Give special items or gifts to particular people or charities
-Keep your estate out of probate
-Leave a lasting legacy for your loved ones, which could include gifts for education, property, or a nest egg

What happens if I die without a will? If you die without a will and you have minor children or personal property, real property, or financial assets that do not have beneficiary designations, your estate will be subject to probate laws of the State of Michigan and the welfare and care of your minor children will be subject to the whims of Family Court. Under those probate laws, the court will decide who should be in charge of your estate, how your assets will be divided (according to laws that you may not agree with), and who will be your funeral representative. The family court will then decide who will care for your children.  In other words, judges who know little to nothing about you or your family may be making very important decisions about the people and things that are most important to you.

What happens if I die without a trust (but I have a will)? In most cases, your estate will have to be probated, meaning that your will will have to be filed with the probate court, notices to your creditors will have to be posted in the newspaper, and an inventory taken of your things.  Some time will pass – 3 to 6 months, usually – before your estate is closed.  Your creditors will be paid first – remember all those credit card debts you have hanging over your head, or the medical bills you racked up in your final months?  They will get first bite at your estate.  Then your funeral costs will be paid.  Then the state will take a percentage of the value of the estate.  Finally, if there is anything remaining, whatever is left will be distributed according to the wishes expressed in your will.  Though this is not as dire a situation as dying without a will, it is still a lengthy process that can result in nothing being left for your loved ones.

Contact Anne VanderBroek Today To Schedule A Free Consultation.


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