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Upgrading from a will to estate planning

Drafting and executing a will is only a small part of the estate planning process in Georgia. A will effectively serves the purpose of avoiding intestacy, which is the statutory process of disposing of estates that individuals leave behind without properly indicating their wishes; however, this is a legal instrument with many limitations.

Depending on its construction, a last will and testament may not be able to adequately address certain probate issues such as conflicts between heirs and relatives. Since probate cases are handled in public court, they can often turn embarrassing for families; in Georgia, the estate of James Brown, known as the "Godfather of Soul," is an example of a contested will that resulted in plenty of dirty laundry reported by the news media outlets. A solid estate plan, on the other hand, will keep things private by keeping the estate away from probate court.

Probate and estate planning serves the best interests of individuals by allowing them to establish how assets should be managed, when they should be distributed and who will be responsible for executing these wishes. When a new estate plan is formulated, the first order of business is to account for all assets and liabilities for the purpose of establishing personal net worth. The next step is to determine intent, followed by executors.

Once the initial formulation of the estate plan has been completed, the next step is to allow legal professionals to figure out the best structure. The instruments to be drafted may include a durable power of attorney as well as a health care directive. A will may be drafted in some cases, but a trust may work better for an individual whose net worth includes liquid assets in excess of $50,000.

There is more to estate planning than just avoiding probate. Asset protection, financial planning and guardianship matters are issues that are beyond the scope of wills; for this reason, estate planning is always preferred.

SourceKiplinger, "You Have a Will - Is It Time for an Estate Plan?", Jason R. Cross, 06/21/2018

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