“Estate Planning” is a term that many associate with high wealth families. However, Estate Planning encompasses the entire economic range, from low income to the very high income, and includes planning for disability or incompetency, which can strike at any time. The common denominator between the extreme ends of the income range is that everyone passes away and therefore has an “estate,” whether it be personal property, land, investments or just the treasured items passed from a deceased family member.
In Mississippi, at someone’s death, ownership of their assets passes to another in one of three ways. First, if ownership of an asset is controlled by “title document,” then the ownership of the asset will pass to any joint owner listed on the title. Examples of title documents are deeds to real property, bank accounts, and vehicle titles. Second, property passes by beneficiary designation or pay on death instructions. Primary examples includes life insurance policies, investment accounts and some bank accounts. Finally, if property does not pass by title or beneficiary/pay on death designation, then it will pass according to the applicable estate laws in Mississippi, being either by Intestate Succession (death without a Last Will and Testament) or by Bequest (death with a Last Will and Testament.)
The process for transferring property after one’s death if there is no Last Will and Testament is called Intestate Succession. This is a rigid process that is controlled by Mississippi law. Assets go where the law says they go, without any deviation. This process is also referred to as an Administration. The Administration process is expensive, time consuming and public in nature. It is easily avoided by proper estate planning.
A Last Will and Testament is a document that a person executes to control the distribution of assets at death. A Will must contain certain language and it must be executed in a certain manner for it to be valid. Use of a Will should be considered the minimum amount of planning necessary to ensure that surviving family members are not burdened with a cumbersome and expensive process. One critical component of a Last Will and Testament is that it allows one to designate a guardian for any minor children left with no parents. If for no other reason, the obligation to take care of children and do what is in their best interests should drive everyone with children to have a Will, even if they have no assets.
While Estate Planning has been made to appear somewhat simple by out of state companies promoting Wills and Trusts through internet web sites, it is deceptively complex and involves much more than filling out a form. Considerations such as potential mental incapacity, the potential for reliance upon government assistance, the stability of the family, medical conditions of family members, maturity of beneficiaries, the client’s goals, economic status, desire to avoid probate, to reduce or eliminate estate taxes, providing for charitable organizations, provide for the care of pets, and much more go into decisions about estate planning. Proper planning involves the disposition of all assets, disability considerations, guardianship of children and management of the cost and burden placed on surviving family members at death. An experienced estate planning attorney is critical in guiding one through the planning process. There is no online program available to personally guide you through these important decisions. There is no one-size-fits-all estate plan, as every plan is unique to the individual and/or family. Estate planning is not Do-It-Yourself. We have personally witnessed the aftermath of do-it-yourself estate planning. Estate planning done on the cheap, as it turns out, is very, very expensive.
We meet with individuals and families to review to personally tailor an estate plan that fits their individual and family situation. We address their needs, concerns, hopes and goals, and explain the options available to them based on their situation. This may include wills, trusts, powers of attorney, advance medical directives, or some combination, depending on client needs and goals. With a proper, accurate and valid estate plan in place, our clients enjoy peace of mind knowing they have provided for themselves and their loved ones if an unexpected crisis occurs. As goals and circumstances change, our clients are confident knowing they have a solid foundation to build on.