Arkansas Estate Planning: A (sort-of) Layman’s Perspective

Although I have been a trial lawyer for a number of years, I do not profess to have anything more than a basic understanding of Arkansas estate planning matters.  (Our associate, Chris McNeal, on the other hand, is experienced in estate planning and has written extensively about it here, here and here. The internet also contain good overview articles on estate planning basics such as this one here.) What I do know about it is that it is important to make the proper legal arrangements for your death, especially if you have any children or appreciable assets.  Even if you do not have children or substantial assets, estate planning can give you control both over your affairs, in the event you become unable to make decisions for yourself, and over end-of-life decisions.

Consequences Failing to Plan for Death or Incapacity

It has been said that the only two certainties in this world are death and taxes; and with proper Arkansas estate planning you can minimize the impact that these certainties have on your family and loved ones.  With respect to taxes, an estate plan can help you position assets so that the tax consequences of your passing are minimal and more of your hard-earned estate goes to those you care about.

More importantly, proper Arkansas estate planning can help ease the burden of your death on your loved ones—both before and after you die.  Failing to properly plan can result in you having no control over:

  1. Who makes decisions for you in the event you can no longer make decisions for yourself
  2. The time and manner in which your life support is discontinued if you should have a terminal illness
  3. Who ultimately makes the decision to discontinue life support
  4. Where your property goes when you die
  5. Who becomes the guardian of your children when you die

In addition to you have no control over these matters, not providing clear direction to your loved ones regarding your end-of-life decisions, or to a court regarding the disposition of your property and the care of your children, could cause undue stress for and conflict among your loved ones as they try to determine and advocate what they believe your wished to be.  Conflicts that arise out of disputes over a decedent’s estate are also often costly in terms of attorneys’ fees and court expenses.

The Benefits of Arkansas Estate Planning

Comprehensive Arkansas estate planning, including a will and/or trusts, a living will, a healthcare power of attorney, and a durable power of attorney, can benefit you and your loved ones in the following ways:

  • Wills and Trusts:  Allow you to designate where your property goes when you die, in some instances allowing you to minimize taxes chargeable to your estate.  Additionally, if you have minor children, you can designate who the guardian of those children will be and provide instructions for how your assets are to be used for the benefit of those children into their adulthood and beyond.  (Read more about wills and trusts here.)
  • Living Wills:  Living wills set out instructions for a hospital or other healthcare provider regarding the manner in which your life support should be discontinued if you develop a terminal condition and are not able to communicate your decisions. (Read more about living wills here.)
  • Healthcare Powers of Attorney:  Healthcare powers of attorney allow you to appoint another individual to make your healthcare (and if necessary, end-of-life) decisions for you, usually subject to the terms of your living will, in the event that you become incapacitated.  This individual does not have to be a family member, which is important because many times a healthcare provider will defer to the decisions of family members of an incapacitated person, even over those of non-family members who may be in a long-term committed relationship.  A healthcare power of attorney helps avoid any conflicts that might arise in this regard. (Read more about healthcare powers of attorney here.)
  • Durable Power of Attorney:  Unlike a healthcare power of attorney, a durable power of attorney is not limited to healthcare decisions.  A healthcare power of attorney allows you to appoint another individual to handle all of your affairs in the event you can no longer make decisions for yourself.  This includes decisions about finances, the purchase and sale of property, and the decisions pertaining to your children, and, like a healthcare power of attorney, does not have to be a family member.  (Read more about durable powers of attorney here.)

Ease the Burden on Your Loved Ones Through Arkansas Estate Planning

While no one likes to think about death, it is an inevitable part of life.  By failing to make the proper arrangements for your death, you risk causing grieving loved ones unnecessary stress and conflict.  Even if you are young and healthy, do not have a lot of assets, or do not have children, an estate plan can help give you the proper foundation on which to build assets and raise a family, and it can allow you to retain control over end-of-life decisions in the event that an unexpected illness or accident renders you unable to make decisions on your own.

The cost of an estate plan is usually low in relation to the expense it can save after your death, be it in taxes or avoiding conflict among your loved ones, and we offer Arkansas planning services to meet both your needs and your budget.  Please contact us today for a free initial consultation and take the first step in providing for your loved ones when the inevitable occurs.