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Lincoln's unwise decision

An estate plan provides guidance to families going through a difficult time. Sometimes, serious illnesses or injuries can occur without warning, leaving once-healthy people unable to state their final wishes. An effective estate plan will save grieving loved ones the added stress of figuring out the wishes of the deceased, dividing assets amicably, and avoiding overpayment of taxes.

An estate may include provisions such as a will, one or more trusts or various other configurations. At the very least, it should contain information regarding property division between surviving heirs. Making provisions for the guardianship of minor children and considering ways to avoid estate tax are also helpful. If a family dispute arises, it is easier to solve if an estate plan exists, revealing the wishes of the deceased.

However, even Abraham Lincoln died without an estate plan. He was assassinated on April 15, 1865. His eldest son, Robert, sent a telegraph to Supreme Court Justice David Davis, in an effort to help the family sort out distribution of Lincoln's estate. Robert and Lincoln's widow, Mary, drafted a letter to the Sangamon County Court Judge asking him to appoint Davis as the estate administrator. The judge granted his request.

The estate was settled in November 1867, with Lincoln reportedly being worth $110,296.80. This amount would be equally divided among the three remaining family members. No payment was subtracted for administration, which would have cost about $6,600. Lincoln owed $38.31 at the time of his death. A lawyer by trade, he would have been expected to have drafted a will by the time of his death at age 54. But apparently failing to prepare a will is not an uncommon thing, even today: it is estimated that 55 percent of adult Americans do not currently have a will.

Not everyone has access to a lawyer from the nation's highest court to help guide the family in the estate distribution. With assistance, Robert Lincoln was able to get proper guidance in preserving his father's estate. Anyone in Michigan who wants to set their estate in order should learn about their options before putting pen to paper-it may save a lot of trouble for their family in the future.

Source: Forbes, "Are You Better Prepared Than Abraham Lincoln Was?" Danielle and Andy Mayoras, Dec. 4, 2012

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