Most people know that a Last Will and Testament lets you specify who you want to receive your property after you die and who will be in charge. When a person with a Will dies, the Will must be filed with a local Court and a Judge will appoint someone to “probate” that Will.

What is Probate? Probate is the court-supervised process of approving your Will, removing your name from titled assets, paying bills, and passing on your remaining assets to the persons named in your Will. Because probate is in the local court system, there are court costs and attorneys’ fees to be paid. In Idaho, for a single person, it often takes a year to complete a probate and may be longer. Probate is a public process allowing anyone to read your Will and learn about your estate. The probate process, not your family, determines how much it will cost and how long it will take.

You And Your Will If You Become Disabled. A Will goes into effect only at your death. If you become unable to handle your financial affairs (pay bills, make investment decisions, etc.) due to mental or physical incapacity (Alzheimer’s Disease, stroke, heart attack, or injury), your spouse and other family members cannot automatically step in and sign papers on your behalf. If you have no other plan in place, you get the State’s plan, which may result in a stranger being the court-appointed “conservator” to handle your finances. This ongoing court process can be expensive, embarrassing, time-consuming, and if you recover, you need a court Order to be back in charge of your own affairs. Your conservator may not be able to protect assets should you need care in a nursing home.

A Will does not control all of your assets. Life insurance and retirement accounts with beneficiary designations are not automatically controlled by your Will. When you die, these assets go to the person you have named as Beneficiary. This can cause one person to receive more or less than you intended, and can even cause you to unintentionally disinherit someone.

All this being said, it is possible a Will is the right estate planning tool for you. How do you know using a Will based estate plan is right for you? Call and make an appointment with Susan M. Graham, a Certified Elder Law attorney who can look at your overall estate picture to decide what makes the most sense in your case.