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Estate Planning

Small family house

It is important for everyone to have an estate plan in place. In addition, there are reasons or changes in circumstances that would lead you to review or revise your current estate plan. Some of these reasons could be a change in marital status, your retirement, the birth of a new grandchild, or a move to a new state. Such changes in your personal circumstances call for review of an existing will or estate plan or for making a will or estate plan. In addition, there are legal changes that would necessitate a review or update of your estate plan. For example, changes in the federal and state tax laws, as well as changes in the state inheritance and probate laws should remind you to review your estate plan, or to make one. Without a proper estate plan in place, you are unable to make decisions yourself concerning your property, health care wishes or financial decision making. Each estate plan should be tailored strictly for you and your particular circumstances. There are simple steps you can take in beginning to formulate an estate plan that involve you gathering together information on your assets, debts and family members. The first step would be to gather information concerning your assets or property.

It is a good idea to list on a piece of paper the following: family home or other real estate, bank accounts, certificates of deposit, stocks, bonds, business interests, life insurance (be sure to include group insurance), pension plan death benefits, IRAs or Keogh plans, profit sharing benefits, and other things of value. This is good information to keep together for your family in the event something was to happen to you. Next, subtract your liabilities such as mortgages, loans, and credit card debts. The results will be your “net estate.” Even if this number is small or a negative, you still need an estate plan. If the net estate exceeds a certain value set by the federal government, you may be subject to estate taxes. In 2011, the estate tax only affects estates that are valued over $5 million dollars. This number is subject to change and in the past has ranged from $1 million to $3.5 million. After you have listed your assets and liabilities, list your family members and their relationship to you. Do you want your family to inherit your property? Are there special circumstances such as the need for a special needs trust for a beneficiary or is there a particular family member that would not be able to handle any property if you left it outright to him or her outright? This could signal the need for a trust of some sort. Next consider if there is any favorite charity or organization to which you would like to contribute now or after your death.

It is important to think about who will be in charge of your estate to collect your assets, pay your debts, and make sure that whatever property is left is delivered to those persons specified in your will. This is a fiduciary responsibility and in South Carolina we call this individual the Personal Representative. The Probate court 68 will choose your Personal Representative for you, based on certain priorities established by law, but you are able to name a Personal Representative and alternate in your will. If you do not have a will, the Probate Court will use established priorities are based on the kinship of various persons to you to name your Personal Representative.

If your children or a child you may have legal custody and care of are under the age of 18, you should consider a person who will have physical custody of your children until they attain the age of 18. This individual is called a guardian. While you have no power to appoint a guardian for your children under 18 in your will, you can express a preference for a person to serve. The Family Courts of South Carolina have the power to appoint the guardian and should give careful consideration to your stated preference.
You should choose a means of disposing of your property, now and at your death, or both. The most common methods are: wills, joint ownership with survivorship, payable on death accounts, life insurance, and trusts.


South Carolina Senior Citizens’ Handbook - A Guide to Laws and Programs Affecting Senior Citizens
South Carolina Bar Public Services Division and the Lieutenant Governor’s Office on Aging

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