Estate planning is difficult to think about because it forces us to think about our own mortality.  Two recent examples of notable people who died without a will or trust are Aretha Franklin and Prince.  Prince died of a painkiller overdose at the age of 57.  He left an estate valued at over $300 million.  His sister and five half-siblings are fighting over the estate.  This fight could be prolonged and very costly.  A probate judge will make the final decisions and distribute Prince’s assets.  Aretha Franklin died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 76 and left behind a fortune estimated to be roughly $80 million.  She left behind four sons who, according to Michigan law, will inherit equal shares of the estate.  It is important to know that she has one son who is handicapped and residing in a nursing home.  Her case has been assigned to a Michigan probate judge. Probate court can be costly, especially when the heirs have differences of opinion on how the estate of the deceased should be distributed.  Is this what you want for your loved ones?

A survey conducted by revealed that only 42% of Americans have an estate plan or a will.  More than 78% of millennials do not have a will or trust, but even more astounding is that nearly half of adults in the over 50 age group have not made a will or planned for their eventual death or disablement.  It is important that you do estate planning to ensure that your assets are distributed in the manner that you prefer.  You should also be concerned about who will make financial and health care decisions for you if you become ill or incapacitated.  The best motivator to develop an estate plan is to realize that if you don’t have an estate plan of your own, the state of Utah has one for you!  Your assets will be distributed according to state laws and financial and health decisions will be handled in accordance with state laws.  The law firm of Bird and Fugal has several helpful articles with Utah specific estate planning on their website:

Some people put off estate planning because they have limited assets and assume that these limited assets will automatically be passed down to their spouse or children.  You need to also consider what will happen in the event you are incapacitated and unable to make decisions about your health care.  You also want to be sure that your assets are not tied up in litigation if your heirs disagree on the distribution of your assets.  Your assets could be tied up in probate and a judge will have the final say in how any inheritance is handled.

A licensed attorney can help you by discussing your concerns and ensuring that your wishes are carried out according to your wishes.

When discussing your estate plan, be sure to discuss these basic estate planning elements with your attorney:

  • Your current and past marital situation
  • Dependent children and children with special needs
  • How to avoid probate
  • How to minimize taxes on your estate
  • Who will control your affairs if you are incapacitated?

Choose an attorney who is familiar with the estate planning guidelines in Utah and can work with you to develop a plan that follows your wishes and ensures that there is minimal stress on your loved ones in the event of your inability to handle your own affairs or in the event of your death.  If you decide to forgo estate planning, you lose the right to have any say in what happens to your assets.  A probate judge will decide all matters based on state laws. You also lose the right to decide who will handle your finances or make medical decisions for you if you are unable to handle these matters for yourself.

A will is a document most people think of when thinking of estate planning.  You should also ask your attorney about the benefits of a living trust.  A living trust can have several advantages such as appointing someone to handle your affairs when you are incapacitated and avoiding probate.  Your attorney can discuss the pros and cons of having a living trust.

A Financial Power of Attorney can be created to ensure that your financial affairs are handled in the manner you wish if you are incapacitated.  You should also consider a Medical Power of Attorney which will enable someone to make medical decisions regarding your treatment and care if you are unable to do so.

If you have minor children or special needs dependents, you may want to ask your attorney if a trust is a viable option to add to your estate plan.

After you’ve developed your estate plan, be sure your heirs are able to locate the documents.  Remember that death freezes everything and your heirs may not be able to assess your bank accounts or safe deposit boxes.

All estate plans will not be the same.  Find an attorney who will listen to your circumstances and develop a plan that ensures that plans for your loved ones are in place in the event of your incapacitation or death.

For more information on estate planning in Utah, you may want to consult this firm:

Bird & Fugal Attorneys at Law

384 E. 720 South, Ste. 201, Orem, UT 84058