In Estate Planning Awareness

In August of 2022, actress Anne Heche’s name flashed across headlines when she was involved in a serious car accident. Sadly, the accident left her with major injuries and she was in a coma before passing away just days later. Heche died intestate (without a will). For some, the idea of planning for death is uncomfortable or a bad omen, and they delay making arrangements. Confronting the possibility of one’s death is not easy. However, as in Heche’s case, not having a will can place a significant burden on your children and cause undesirable complications.

What Happened With Heche’s Estate?

Anne Heche’s case is a good example of why a person may want to consider creating a will sooner rather than later. Heche was divorced with two children from different relationships when she passed away. Her eldest son is 20 years old, but her younger son is still a minor.

Although they are assumed to be her sole heirs, only her oldest son is of age to administer her estate. He has filed a petition for a guardian to be put in place to protect his younger brother’s interests. The guardian may be a financial burden to Heche’s estate, and the costs of securing this professional will potentially reduce the assets available to her sons.

Even though her eldest son is dealing with his mother’s estate, this is undoubtedly very difficult for a person to go through at such a young age. Heche’s eldest son likely will not be able to do this all on his own and will need the services of a probate attorney — likely further increasing the costs of administering her estate and depleting how much is left for her children.

It has also been reported that an inventory and appraisal of her estate is needed to determine its worth and what assets she had. This process requires further professional involvement and fees that her estate must pay. In addition, it is possible that the father of her youngest son may seek to intervene in the estate’s administration to ensure he is treated fairly. Litigation costs could rack up quickly if there is any disagreement related to this.

Preparing a will and other estate planning documents can make legal proceedings significantly less complex and expensive and keep your situation as private as possible. It can also make it easier for your loved ones to know exactly what you want to happen to your assets and possessions.

Who Inherits When You Die Without a Will?

Many people do not realize that if you pass away without a will, your state laws on intestacy will determine who qualifies as your heirs and inherits your property.

People are often shocked to learn that in Louisiana, an estate “by default” goes to a decedent’s children, as opposed to their spouse. And if a decedent’s child has passed away, but there are grandchildren, then the estate goes to the grandchildren. If there are no children or grandchildren, but the decedent had living siblings and parents, the estate would be divided among their siblings, with a usufruct – or a right to use the property – for any living parent.

Or, what if you have no living relatives? Your property may go to the government instead of friends, charities or others who could have benefitted from your estate. Having a will prevents these scenarios from happening.

Choose a Guardian for Your Children

Another benefit parents should consider is their ability to choose a guardian for their children in advance.

This matters, for example, when the other parent is not living or cannot be located. If a person does not set forth their wishes ahead of time, multiple parties may step up after a person’s death and argue over who should care for any minor children.

A court may be tasked with making this decision, and it may not be what you would have wanted. This can be expensive, traumatic for all involved, and a long process. Courts will generally try to appoint the individual a person has selected if your wishes are in a will or other planning document.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that having estate planning documents in place makes your wishes more likely to be honored and less likely that a court will decide what happens. This is also true where you may be incapacitated and unable to voice your wishes. While Anne Heche’s situation is not unusual, it is avoidable. Consulting with a qualified estate planning attorney can help you determine what measures would be best for you and your family.

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