Estate Planning is about much more than a set of legal documents. Estate planning is a way to address death, money, and taxes while you are still able to make confident, informed decisions about your property and how you want it handled when you are either incapacitated or deceased.
Estate planning is about allowing you (and your spouse) the opportunity to plan ahead and make advance, conscious, and informed decisions about medical and financial decision making. Estate Planning is about allowing you to make provisions for your minor and adult children, charitable giving, and your personal healthcare.
If you don’t establish an estate plan before it is needed, the state you live in already has one. Your state has already made decisions about what it thinks is the best way to divide your property and who should take it. Fortunately, with a little advance planning, you can create a personalized estate plan that ignores most of what your state’s law says about who should be in charge of your property and affairs.
What is Estate Planning
Estate planning is the process of creating a set of legal documents (before they are needed) to let your family know what to do if you pass away or become incapacitated. An estate plan allows you to make your own choices about who should be in charge of your care and your assets if you become unable to make your own decisions. Only you can put these documents in place. If you do not make a plan in advance, then the details will be determined by the court system and state law. Your family could be left trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle without your input or assistance.
Estate planning also allows you to make advance plans for tax issues, divorce, or to protect your children from creditors. An estate plan will also allow you to prepare for unexpected family events: such as the death of a child; or a sudden, unanticipated need for long-term care.
Estate planning is about making plans and arrangements for life to go on after you are no longer around. Estate planning allows you to establish a legacy for your children, grandchildren, and others – your legacy. What legacy do you want to leave behind?
Estate Planning Goals
Estate planning is not a “one-size-fits-all” process. You have seen the many online websites that tell you how the site can prepare your complete estate plan – usually at a bargain price – in only minutes. What these online estate planning imitators fail to explain is that estate plans are unique to every person who establishes one.
Your estate plan should be tailored to reflect the personal needs of you and your family. The things that are most important to you should be accurately and completely put down in your estate plan so as to leave as little doubt about your wishes as possible.
If you approach estate planning with a competent attorney and adequate preparation, then your estate plan will be an accurate reflection of your specific goals and intentions.
The process of putting together an estate plan can be intimidating. However, if you work with a good estate planning attorney, then most of your input will be involved in providing the details of your plan and making decisions about who receives property and who takes responsibility for carrying out your wishes.
A good estate plan will also try to make provisions for the unexpected. Neither you nor your attorney have a crystal ball. Neither of you know what will happen in the future to either you, your spouse, or your descendants. Because of this, it is important to build flexibility into your estate plan to allow for changes and adjustments in the event that unanticipated events occur.
Planning For Long-Term Illness or Incapacity
While the first stage of estate planning is to determine what you want to have happen when you are no longer able to make decisions – either because you are incapacitated or have passed away – the second stage of estate planning is creating documents to allow your loved ones or family to step in and manage your personal finances and medical care if you are unable to do so yourself.
An effective estate plan will provide directions for your care and the protection of you and your assets if you suffer a long-term illness or injury and can no longer manage these things yourself.
Have you considered what you would like to happen in the event you are no longer able to make your own decisions? Who do you want to be in charge of your assets? How do you want to ensure that your family and loved ones continue to receive the support you give now? Who do you trust to make these decisions? Do you have strong personal preferences about your medical care, housing, and quality of life?
If you fail to provide these directions in advance, these decisions will be left to the local probate court. The court will step in and supervise your estate and determine who will be given the power to direct your care.
Transferring Your Assets – Funding Your Estate Plan
The third step in estate planning involves making sure that control of all your assets and belongings are properly transferred to your beneficiaries in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible. Do you want your descendants to receive your property outright? Or would you prefer your descendants receive these assets in a trust to better protect them from creditors and others who may be able to make claims against them?
What Goes In My Estate Plan
There are a number of documents that make up a ‘complete’ estate plan. I have put together an article that describes each of these documents. If you already have an estate plan, you may want to compare your current plan against the documents listed to see if your estate plan is complete.
What Is Next
If you know need an estate plan – or if you need to have a more complete estate plan – I highly recommend having an attorney assist you in preparing one. Or, if you already have an estate plan, but would like to have that plan reviewed or updated, please reach out to the Law Offices of Geoff Wiggs and arrange a free consultation.