Assets are not just about houses and large bank accounts. Cars, clothing, books, and other personal property are all assets that become part of an estate when someone dies. Surviving family members cannot just immediately clean out and sell a house. It is impossible to predict when something will happen to us or a loved one and that is why estate planning is essential. When someone dies intestate, meaning without a will, then where their assets go and who can make decisions is left to the courts to determine. Probate can be a lengthy and costly process; one that can burden a family for years. Delays in probate cause delay in wrapping up the estate or selling real estate – costing money and time.
Most people assume everything in an estate passes to a surviving spouse or children. Intestacy laws of New Hampshire do cause a portion of an estate to pass to a surviving spouse, but also provide shares to surviving children, parents, and potentially even siblings. This can become complicated if there are minors involved. If there is no surviving family then the estate goes to the State. A will directs how assets are to be divided and who will be in charge of managing the estate. Are there non-biological heirs? Anything can be bequeathed to anyone be it family, friend, or charity. If there are specific items a specific person should receive then a will is imperative. Trusts protect and preserve assets and can be created to provide for spouses or minor children or grandchildren. New Hampshire even allows for the creation of a trust to benefit pets.
Estate planning is more than wills and trusts. Advanced directives as well as financial and health care Powers of Attorney can help loved ones care for someone incapacitated because of an accident or illness. A power of attorney names someone to make decisions about health care or manage finances. What types of intervention does someone want? What do they not want? Who will pay bills? These documents should be in place before a person becomes incapacitated by illness or injury because once someone is unable to make decisions for themselves it is too late and a judge will need to decide. When someone dies, accounts are frozen and family is left waiting for courts to appoint someone as power of attorney to manage the estate and close accounts. If someone is ill and unable to manage their own affairs, family may be unable to pay bills on their behalf if they cannot access accounts. If a will or power of attorney is in place the appointed person can step in immediately. Estate planning also takes taxes into consideration so the maximum amount of an estate can be passed on.