As uncomfortable as it makes us, we all have to deal with life's two certainties: death and taxes. Just because these aren't problems we like to thinking about, that doesn't mean we should put it off. Luckily, estate planning is an area of law that can help you plan for both. Georgia, and most other states, has laws that dispose of your property when you pass away without an estate plan based on a statutory scheme. These are called intestacy laws. For some people, those laws work just fine for them. All that is left to do is for someone to administer your estate through the probate court. But for the vast majority of us, we have special circumstances that Georgia's intestacy laws do not account for. This is where estate planning comes in.
Estate planning is often talked about in terms of wills and trusts. A will is a written document that is submitted to the probate court in the county in which you reside when you pass away. In the will, you can appoint an Executor and guardian of your minor children if you have them as well as leave your property to whomever you choose. You can also do some creative estate planning in wills such as leave money to an individual for the care of a pet, leave money for your grandchildren to be spent on their education, or leave conditions attached to the property you leave.
A trust is a wholly different concept. A trust is a contract between you, the Grantor, and the person who holds the property for your benefit, your Trustee. You can be your own trustee until you pass away, and then have someone else assume the role. A trust is a bit more complicated than a will, but that is because it is more versatile. If you have a trust and you have put all of your property into the trust, then your estate will likely not need to be probated since there is no property to pass through the probate process, which can be expensive. In other words, all of your property is held in the trust so there is nothing left for the State of Georgia to concern itself with. Another advantage to avoiding probate, in addition to the cost saving, is that the proceedings are private, meaning that only the beneficiaries of the trust and the trustee know how your property is distributed. Additionally, if you choose to have someone else as your trustee, then you may be eligible for government benefits to assist with end of life care once a certain amount of time has passed.
The last advantage to creative estate planning is that it may help you lessen the tax burden your descendants may have to pay. Very few people actually have to pay estate taxes, and this is an area of law that is constantly changing, so if you think you may leave a taxable estate, you should consult with an attorney as soon as possible.
There are other tools an estate planning attorney can assist you with, such as preparing an Advanced Health Care Directive of General Powers of Attorney. These tools can also be useful in the event that you suffer a form of incapacity since you can designate someone to be your guardian and conservator while you have capacity.