This is the message that Shelley Elder, owner of Elder Law Firm, PLLC, based in Kennesaw, GA., tries to convey to current and prospective clients.
“The need for estate planning does not have anything to do with someone being wealthy or not being wealthy,” Elder Explains. “The purpose of estate planning is to ensure that you are able to give what you want, to whom you want, with the least amount of expense being incurred on the estate of the deceased.”
The tasks of estate planning are: making sure real estate and other assets are properly titled with the correct beneficiaries named on those documents, keeping up-to-date with the name of the desired executor, designating which beneficiaries are to receive what specific dollar amounts, as well as other non-monetary gifts, and keeping life insurance documents updated, but the list is not exhaustive.
Elder emphasizes that verifying names on the appropriate documents has become increasingly crucial in the past decade, because of changing family dynamics.
“With the divorce rate among people 50 years of age or older having more than doubled in the past decade, names and relationships change, and estate planning is the tool people can use to accurately reflect that in their last wishes,” Elder states.
Convincing clients to do estate planning is not always an easy endeavor, she admits. Death is not a popular topic. In fact, avoidance of one’s own mortality, or uncomfortableness with the topic, is listed in many surveys as a leading reason why people do not do estate planning.
Yet, as Elder points out, we are all going to pass away. Isn’t it better to have a legal framework in place for those one leaves behind?
The experience and headache of going through probate court without a plan, ranks up there with getting a root canal. Probate court has a nightmarish reputation, yet Elder points out, it doesn’t have to be a difficult process. The process can be quite smooth for the families that have planned and prepared for their passing.
“Probate is not a nightmare for probate attorneys, because we are familiar with its requirements,” Elder asserted. However, it can be difficult when families have not prepared documents for their estate.
Elder notes that some states are easier for probate than others. She would know this, because Elder has practiced law in numerous states and has seen cases that a person with no legal training could complete. However, other states make it tremendously difficult to probate in, especially if the deceased made no written plans.
Elder wishes that “there was a law requiring everyone to have a will, because in general, probate is so much easier when there is a will in place.”
It’s a topic she puts a great deal of effort into when she speaks with her clients. Elder stresses the importance of updating wills and trusts, emphatically suggesting that clients pick a date on the calendar each year to serve as their reminder to verify that their documentation is correct.
“I want them to circle a date, and then take just 15-20 minutes one time a year to make sure everything is up-to-date,” Elder explains.
This matter is so important to Elder, that she is willing to help clients make these updates at a small cost, because she just wants the upgrades completed.
Elder admits that it took her a few years of practicing law to fully realize the necessity of keeping estate planning documents up-to-date.
“I see it as paramount now,” Elder states. “It has been the greatest success that I see, in being able to help families with smaller estates to do estate planning. Whether or not they think they need it initially, being able to explain this situation to my clients in a manner they understand is an important aspect of representing my clients.”
In her 25 years of practice, Elder has experienced plenty of unusual scenarios.
The funniest one, as she describes it, involved a pet trust for prize-winning goats. Elder discovered that the laws governing pet trusts allowed coverage for all of the goats left behind at the death of their owner, but that coverage did not extend to the unborn goats, who were also potential prize-winners. In womb, they would soon be considered part of the herd.
“It was a challenge to figure out how to include the unborn, but it was also a great opportunity to learn more about pet trusts,” Elder notes.
In addition to helping her clients complete their estate planning, Elder’s goals include providing professional assistance to their estate planning attorneys and she continues to add other like-minded individuals to her firm in an effort to ramp up not only the professional standards by which estate planning attorneys operate, but also to make a collective effort to chip away at the rather ugly statistic indicating that 51 percent of Americans age 55-64 do not have a will in place.
“Death is just a difficult topic for most people, they need an estate planner who listens well enough to pick up on the areas of concern that people often do not want to talk about until they are coaxed,” Elder says. “I am really proud of the way my office handles the topic of probate and estate planning. We help our clients work through their difficult emotions in order for them to start planning their estate and obtain the correct documents, in order to make the process easier in the future.”
To learn more about Elder Law Firm, PLLC, visit online at www.shelleyelder.com
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