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Estate Planning Lawyer in Columbia, Missouri

Probate courts are busy places. In 2020, more than 3,300 cases were filed in probate courts in the Missouri counties of Boone, Callaway, Cole, and Cooper alone. For most people, probate court is the last place where their estates are administered. Also for most, creating their will or estate plan was the only time they needed a lawyer.

Dying without a will or other estate planning documentation is difficult for those who survive you. The best step you can take to make life without you easier on them is to create a detailed estate plan. At the same time, you choose how to protect your assets and make decisions about your legacy, rather than leaving them in the hands of the court.

At my firm — Ford, Parshall & Baker — I have been helping individuals and families in Columbia, Missouri, Jefferson City, Boonville, and Fulton craft estate plans for more than 30 years. No two clients are alike, nor are the plans they make to safeguard their legacies.

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The Importance of Estate Planning

If you die without a will or trust or other estate planning document, it is referred to as dying “intestate.” The court appoints a personal representative who will administer your estate. Assets and property you wanted to pass on to others are given to a creditor instead. The friends or charities you wanted to leave something to get nothing.

That is what can happen if you don’t have an estate plan when you die. Since you don’t know when that will be, it is never too early to put one in place, regardless of your age, your health status, or the amount of assets you own.

The probate process takes time and money. Careful and thoughtful estate planning can reduce the time and expense or can help you avoid it altogether.

Elements of a Comprehensive Estate Plan

“Estate plan” may sound like you need to own a significant number of assets to have one, but your estate plan can be as simple as a will or involve any number of fully executed documents, including:

  • Wills A will allows you to appoint a personal representative whom you want to administer your estate when you are gone. It also specifies how you want your personal assets distributed. If you die intestate, the court will use the law of intestate succession to distribute your assets to your legal heirs, whether you wanted them to benefit from your estate or not. A will is also necessary to appoint a guardian for minor children. Wills are subject to probate and become a matter of public record.

  • Trusts A trust allows you to transfer ownership of your property from personal ownership to ownership of the trust, which protects them from creditors. The assets of the trust are managed by a trustee, usually yourself while you are still living, then by a successor trustee you name when you aren’t. The assets of the trust are managed for the benefit of the beneficiaries you name and distributed to them when you are gone. Trusts are not subject to probate and the terms of the trust and identities of the beneficiaries can remain private.

  • Powers of Attorney A power of attorney allows you to name the person or persons you want to manage your business and/or personal affairs for you should you become unable to do so yourself. For example, if you become incapacitated, the “attorney-in-fact” you have chosen can manage your finances and ensure your personal care.

  • Advance Directives — Also called a “living will,” an advance directive allows you to choose what end-of-life care you do or do not want to receive should you become unable to speak for yourself. You express your wishes and name the person you want to make these decisions for you.

Why You Need an Attorney

It is true that there is a proliferation of online forms you can use to execute a will or trust, but you will be better served by working with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Forms are general, non-specific, and may or may not comply with the laws of your state. It is also likely that you do not know what documents you need.

Your attorney can discuss your assets, needs, and wishes with you and help you assess what documents you need. Your attorney will draft the appropriate documents that will be enforceable in court, especially if challenged when you are gone. Furthermore, you develop a lifelong relationship with your attorney who will help you keep your estate plan current, reflecting the changes necessary as you marry, divorce, have children, build a business, and accumulate assets.

Finally, your attorney can prove invaluable in administering a trust or navigating the probate process, ensuring your wishes are honored. Not having an estate plan uniquely yours takes control of your wishes from you and your loved ones and leaves them up to the court and creditors. Building one with an attorney now and updating it throughout your lifetime will give you and those you leave behind peace of mind.

Estate Planning Attorney Serving Columbia, Missouri

I have been helping clients in Columbia, Missouri and surrounding communities find peace of mind for decades. From simple wills to complex trusts, I help them express their wishes and fulfill their goals. I am ready to help you, too. All you need to do is call me — David W. Walker Attorney At Law — to schedule a consultation.