Managing Your Estate
12/1/2017 5:09:47 PM
Managing Estate


A lifetime of hard work may have rewarded you with a nice home and respectable bank accounts, but what happens to your assets once you’re gone? Perhaps you want to leave everything to your children. Maybe a charity, your church, or a cause you feel passionate about should get a portion. And what happens if, before you die, your mental capacity diminishes and you can no longer make decisions for yourself? Only thinking about your final wishes – or even discussing them with a close friend over lunch – isn’t enough.

James Sudduth III, with Sudduth and Associates, says estate management - either through a will, trust, health care directive (living will), or power of attorney is absolutely essential. "Folks don’t like to talk about wills and trusts, and for a very natural reason. It brings up an uncomfortable topic - death. However, ignoring this particular issue won’t make it go away. As the old saying goes, there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. Ironically, estate management addresses both of those issues.”

Sudduth explains that having your affairs in order protects both your wishes and your family. "Having a plan for end of life issues will avoid heirs fighting and litigating over your estate and will avoid unnecessary strife and stress for your family after your passing.”

To manage your estate, consider the following:

Appoint a power of attorney (POA)
Sudduth recommends you choose someone who is trustworthy and who you ultimately believe has sound decision-making skills. Inevitably, decisions will come to this person that could not possibly be planned for. Having a POA who you not only trust but trust their decision-making is essential. Also, plan for alternates in case something happens to your POA (also called agent in fact or attorney in fact).

Designate beneficiaries
In Louisiana, beneficiaries for life insurance plans or retirement accounts often operate outside the succession process. Those that receive from a succession process are referred to as either heirs or legatees. So for a beneficiary, consider the same factors as those for legatees. Sudduth cautions against out-dated beneficiary designations. "All too often we see folks with an ex-spouse still listed as a beneficiary. This can create a situation where an ex-spouse receives a retirement or life insurance proceed rather than a current spouse or child - simply because the person forgot to change the designation.”

Draw up a will.
This is perhaps the best known document for letting your final wishes be known, yet it’s not as widely used as you might think. According to a 2015 Rocket Lawyer estate-planning survey by Harris Poll, 64% of Americans don’t have a will. "If a will is not in place, the default rules of Louisiana succession come into place in a process known as an intestate succession,” says Sudduth. "An intestate succession divides an estate by a presumed set of default rules that can leave your estate in the hands of individuals you would have never dreamed or wanted to be involved.”

Secure healthcare documents such as a living will.
As you near the end of your life you could reach a point where you’re no longer capable of making your own medical decisions. The right documents detail your wishes for health care and remove the guesswork. 

Communicate your wishes.
Ensure your heirs know where to find all your important documents, so they are not blindly searching for essential papers when the time comes.

When is the best time to begin managing your estate? 
Sudduth says now is the time. "You can never begin thinking about this too soon. By stepping ahead of the curve and taking care of it early, you can turn estate management into an advantage for yourself and your family. People often hear about very contested court cases and contentious litigation surrounding successions. This creates a concern regarding estate planning. These contentious cases often happen only because the parties did not plan for the future. By planning ahead you can reduce stress on yourself and family significantly.”

For more information on estate planning, contact Sudduth and Associates at 337-480-0101.
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