Why everyone in Maine needs a will and how our estate planning attorneys help.
Attorney Drafted Wills in Maine
The most popular and well-known method of directing what happens to your estate after your death is writing a will. You can also accomplish the same thing by placing your assets into a trust and naming your heirs as beneficiaries. But for most people, a simple will can be fine. It’s important to remember that directing the distribution of your property after your death is just one piece of the estate planning puzzle. You also need to plan for the management of your health care and finances when you reach an advanced age. Consulting a lawyer for wills in South Portland is a smart move to prevent any costly mistakes.
The Importance of a Will to Every Estate Plan in Maine
What is a will in Maine?
A will is a legal document that describes how you want your property, or estate, distributed after your death. You need to identify your beneficiaries and specify what each of them should receive. Making a will is important because it can protect your surviving spouse, a family member, loved ones, property, and inheritance when you die.
It is mentally challenging to visualize one’s death. However, creating a will ahead of time will give you peace of mind knowing that you will be able to equally distribute your assets to your family. It is important to make sure that all our finances, assets, bank accounts, life insurance policy benefits, real estate properties, retirement accounts, and other investments will be left in good hands after we die. This is why we need to create a beforehand.
Anyone over the age of 18 and of sound mind may write a legally binding will. To be valid in Maine, a typewritten or printed will must be signed by you and two witnesses–who may also be named as beneficiaries in the will. A handwritten, or a holographic will, may also be legally binding if it is written entirely in your handwriting and signed by you.
At Jackson & MacNichol, we have extensive experience in estate planning such as creating wills, trusts, and powers of attorneys. Having a will is a good start in protecting your assets in the event of a death. A credible South Portland estate planning attorney can help with everything from setting up an estate plan to dealing with probate and taxes after your death.
For a free consultation about the estate planning process, call us today at 207-569-3415
Do I need a will in Maine?
There can be many reasons why you might want a will:
- You have a specific idea of which people or organizations you want to leave your property to
- You have minor children
- You are in a second marriage with children from a prior relationship
- You have a disabled child who may require a guardian
- You want to prevent a close relative from inheriting your assets
In these scenarios, the intestate laws of Maine, which apply to people who don’t have wills when they die, would lead to potentially unacceptable outcomes. A will allows you to replace the application of intestate laws with your own plan for the distribution of your assets.
What does a will do in Maine?
A will allows you to direct how all of your affairs will be handled after your death. In your will, you can appoint a personal representative to administer your estate and distribute your assets and property among your beneficiaries. In writing last wills, the testator shall designate and appoint a competent “executor” to carry out the will on his or her behalf.
There are no specific restrictions in choosing an executor so you may choose any of your family members that you trust. The administration of the estate is overseen by a court in what is called the probate process, so your personal representative needs to be a trusted, organized, and effective person who can successfully navigate these court proceedings.
Your will may also interact with a trust you have created, and “pour over” into your trust any assets or property that were not yet in the trust at the time of your death. In addition to directing the distribution of your assets and naming a personal representative, your will may also include wishes for burial, memorial services, or other matters. If you have minor children, your will may also appoint a guardian for them. Your will is the primary vehicle for directing what should happen if you die. For this reason, you should work with an experienced South Portland estate planning lawyer who can ensure that your vision becomes reality when you pass.
What happens if I die without a will in Maine?
If you don’t have a will (intestate), the laws of intestate succession will apply. All your assets, bank accounts, property, and guardianship of your minor children will be handled and distributed according to the intestacy laws in your state. It can cause financial hardship and long court battles for your loved ones.
In Maine, these laws create specific distributions based on your family composition. For example, if you have a spouse and children from that spouse at the time of your passing, your spouse will receive the first $50,000 plus one-half of the remaining balance in your estate. Your children would receive the remaining half. Depending on your particular family situation, your spouse, children, parents, siblings may receive portions of your estate, and more distant relatives if necessary. If you have no living relatives, the state will take your estate.
A will can be used as an effective tool for estate transfer and other legal proceedings after your death. However, anything that is left by a will shall go through probate court. A probate court is the judicial system section responsible for settling wills, trusts, guardianships, and conservatorships.
Why do I need a will in Maine?
As discussed above, if you don’t have a will, you don’t get control over who gets your property when you die. So first and foremost, a will is about giving you control over your estate, and ensuring that your goals and values are reflected in how your property gets distributed. You may want to leave your book collection to the local library, or give money to the botanical garden. You may want to have people other than your close relatives inherit your properties. These kinds of acts require a will or a trust. A well written will or trust document can also help reduce estate taxes.
Why do I need to include digital stuff in my will?
Nowadays, just about everyone is on social media, or at least uses a computer in some capacity. This begs the question: what happens to these social media accounts and digital files upon their passing? Just like your other assets, you can include digital files in your will, and you should consider giving your account passwords to a trusted person.
I’m a young parent, why do I need a will now?
As a parent, you have to prepare your family for any inevitable circumstances that might happen in the future. In case of your sudden death, you need to appoint a guardian who will take care of your minor children including their finances and properties that they will inherit from you.
If you had a will before you had children, you will want a new one or amend the existing one so that it includes your offspring. If you don’t have a will, you should consider making one now. By planning and executing a will with the help of a competent estate planning lawyer in South Portland, you can ensure that your children will be provided for if you pass unexpectedly. You can set aside money for them, and also appoint a guardian to look after them until they reach adulthood.
If you die without a will, your estate will be distributed according to state law, and not according to your wishes or the specific needs of your family. A court will appoint a guardian for your children, who may or may not be the person that you or your children would have wanted. You can avoid these unknown factors by planning for the worst now.
I’m divorced and I don’t want my ex to get anything, do I need to change my will?
If you and your spouse divorce (or if the court doesn’t consider your marriage as legal), Maine law revokes any language in your will that leaves property to your spouse or names your spouse to be your executor. However, in case you decide to remarry your ex or if you specifically state in your will (or divorce decree) that divorce should not affect the provisions in your will, then these rules won’t apply.
The Maine Probate Code provides that a legally valid divorce or annulment has the effect of revoking any provisions in a will that would distribute assets to your ex-spouse. Any provision that would make your spouse the representative of your estate would be revoked as well.
That being said, it’s still a good idea to meet with a reliable Maine estate planning attorney after a significant life event such as a divorce, marriage, death of a relative, the birth of a child, or the acquisition of a property or a large amount of wealth. Your goal should be for your estate plan to always accurately reflect your assets, desires, and family composition.
How can I prevent a relative from receiving any of my assets?
If you are either unmarried or with no children, your parents or grandchildren will get hold of your assets. The list goes on with your distant relatives which includes your siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, nephews, nieces, cousins, and the family members of your spouse who already passed away (if you are widowed).
This is another example of the importance of having a will. Under intestate laws, some relatives such as spouses or children almost always are entitled to a share of your estate. But if you have a will, you can specifically leave people out. For example, your will could state: “I intentionally omit my child, John Doe, from my will.” This provision would effectively keep this child from inheriting from you. A qualified South Portland estate planning attorney can help you name the beneficiaries for each asset to be distributed on your will.
Can I prevent anyone from contesting my will?
You cannot prevent someone from starting the process of contesting your will, but you can take steps to ensure that their efforts will be unsuccessful. A written and properly executed will is generally impervious to legal challenges. You can also add a “no contest” clause to your will, which states that any person who contests the will is automatically excluded as a beneficiary. These clauses, however, will not work if the challenger makes a valid claim and is successful in court.
Contesting wills can only be done by your spouse, children, or people included in your will or codicil (or a previous will or codicil). To contest a will, the person must file a contest during the probate process (the court procedure that enacts a will). There must be a valid legal question about the will for a contest to be considered. It is advisable to consult a seasoned estate planning lawyer in Maine to help you understand the processing of contesting a will.
What is a living will in Maine?
A living will is a legal document that specifies your end-of-life wishes and any medical care directives if you become incapacitated. It’s also called an advance healthcare directive in Maine. This type of will address many life-threatening treatments and procedures, such as resuscitation, ventilation, and dialysis. You can also indicate whether you wish to donate organs and tissues after death.
A living will involve how you will be cared for if in a compromised or incapacitated state. This medical directive terminates upon the death of that person. While it is different from your general will, your living will is also an important aspect of your estate plan. With the help of a credible Maine estate planning lawyer, you may write your living will in preparation for unexpected health-related issues that may occur in the future.
What is a personal memorandum?
Maine probate law allows you to make a list, separate from your will, in which you designate who should receive personal property such as collectibles, jewelry, art, tools, and furnishings. Wills drafted by Attorney Jackson can include instructions to your representative to follow any personal memorandum that you write. We also have templates for your use, although no particular form is required.
A personal property memorandum just needs to be in your handwriting or signed by you to be valid. In it, you can leave items of tangible personal property. All you have to do is make a list of items and the people you want to inherit them. Another advantage to making a personal property memorandum is that it can help avoid hard feelings among family members.
What are probate assets and why does it matter?
Probate assets are those whose transfers are controlled by your will or the laws of intestacy upon your death. Generally, probate assets are those that you own entirely at the time of your death, such as:
- Investment, savings, or checking accounts in your name only
- Land to which you hold the deed exclusively
- Life insurance policies or retirement funds that name your estate as the beneficiary
- Personal property such as cash, vehicles, and collectibles
Assets held in trust are exempt from probate because when you set up the trust, you transfer ownership of your assets to the trust. There are also non-probate assets, which automatically transfer to either your surviving joint owner or named beneficiary/beneficiaries. Non-probate assets include:
- Land in owned in joint tenancy
- Joint bank accounts
- Accounts with pay-on-death designations
- Life insurance policies or retirement funds that name someone other than your estate as a beneficiary.
Do you still have questions about drafting wills in Maine? Ask our estate planning attorneys
Creating a will ahead of time will give you peace of mind knowing that you will be able to equally distribute your assets to your family. Without a plan in place, there could be a long-lasting impact on your loved ones. Proper estate planning is the key to ensuring that everything that you will leave behind when you die will be managed and handled accordingly.
At Jackson & MacNichol, we understand that estate planning can be a complicated and emotional process that quite literally will define your family’s future. Given the complex nature of estate planning, consulting our experienced South Portland estate planning attorneys can make things less complicated. That’s why our estate planning law firm strives to focus on our individual clients’ needs and is prepared to assist with every aspect of planning or settling an estate. We are always just one phone call away. For a free consultation about the estate planning process, call us today at 207-569-3415.