The Basics

I was recently at a happy hour event thrown by members of my favorite blog and was telling a few people about this blog and what my plans were for it. On my way home from the event, it struck me that many singletons (as we are called across the Pond) are aware that they need to know more about estate planning, but might not know exactly where to begin. When you are a lawyer (as I am) and live in an area overcrowded with lawyers (as I do), you take for granted the fact that not everyone went to law school. By the way, I think this is an appropriate time for my disclaimer:

I am a licensed attorney, but I am probably not licensed where YOU live. Do not consider anything I write on this blog to be legal advice. No attorney-client relationship ha been created here. This is just general information for you to provoke discussion and provide a jumping off point for those of you who are curious about these issues. I urge you to consult an attorney that is licensed in your state. You can find one at: http://www.martindale.com

Let’s start with the basics: What is a will? It’s a piece of paper that determines who gets your stuff when you die. Period. Simple right? Moving along. What is probate? Here’s where I am going to get geeky. The work “probate” is derived from the Latin word probatus, meaning “the thing proved.” The process of probate distributes the dead person’s property in accordance with the will. The will has to be validated – it must be proved that this is in fact the will of the dead person (the decedent) – and all claims against the estate must be settled. The will generally names an executor – the person who carries out the instructions of the will.

What sucks about probate? It can last a long time, it can be very expensive, and it is public. Probate is an official court proceeding. That’s public information, folks! However, there are many ways to avoid probate while still leaving a loved one with some nice scratch. I will be addressing two of these ways soon… they are ideal for the unmarried person with a long time partner who has gone unacknowledged by their family (hint, hint, my same-sex lovin’ friends!). These are ways to give a person your money without anyone ever knowing about it. It’s easy to do and you don’t even need a lawyer! ….a little hint…you probably have one of these things already…

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