At some point in your life, you’ve likely thought about what would happen to everything you own should you become incapacitated or experience death. These are not easy thoughts to have, but they are natural as death eventually impacts everyone. Planning ahead is important in order to make sure your assets are dispersed in the way you intended. You’ll want to make sure your legacy lives on through the people and charitable organizations that are important to you. An estate plan is an important plan to have at any stage in life. The more likely it is you have people in your life that may contest your wishes, the more important it is to work with an attorney to make sure your estate plan WORKS.
The Importance of an Estate Plan
A recent survey revealed only 4 in 10 Americans have an estate plan or will. As people get older, they are more likely to have a plan in place, but it still hovers around half. This is surprising given estate planning is important even when you’re young, especially if you have equity in cash accounts or real estate, or if you have young children. Accidents cannot be predicted and nobody knows how long their lives will be. If you were gone tomorrow, what would happen to your home, your bank accounts, and even your children?
Without an estate plan, upon your passing, your possessions would be dispersed based on the laws of your state. If you have young children but no spouse, or if you and your spouse should become deceased at the same time, the state would have to decide who cares for them. And if you were to become too ill to manage your money or make decisions regarding your care, a judge could be required to make the decision of who manages your bills and estate on your behalf. Not having an estate plan could leave your estate in chaos, vulnerable to claims by any blood relatives, some of whom you may not have been in contact with for years. Is that how you want to be remembered?
Not only is it costly to let the courts determine how your estate will be divided, it is time consuming and very public. It could take years for your rightful heirs to be identified and by then close relationships could be damaged forever. Creditors would also be able to access information related to the courts probate and could challenge it as well. As your estate remains in probate and creditors stake claim to pieces of it, the value of your estate dwindles.
An estate plan protects the people you love, who are the rightful heirs, and it allows your estate to pass on in private. Having a plan in place will also ensure your gift of inheritance is taxed as little as possible. The IRS will be more than happy to stake claim to part of your estate if no heirs have been identified by you personally.
The Pieces of Your Estate Plan
A solid estate plan is not an easy task to complete. It will require thoughtfulness on your part, and the assistance of an attorney to ensure it cannot be challenged later. Your estate plan should consist of the following important pieces:
- A trust will hold property so that probate is avoided. That is, if it is set up correctly.
- Your will will designate your heirs and how your estate is dispersed. If your estate is large, this could also include charitable beneficiaries.
- A letter detailing your funerary wishes and disbursement of any smaller personal items of sentimental value.
- A designated durable power of attorney should be someone you trust to take care of your estate and health decisions should you become incapacitated. This person should have knowledge of your health care wishes related to life and death decisions, which should also be included in a living will.
- Keep a list of your assets and make sure your executor knows where to find it. This list should include any investment accounts, bank accounts, insurance policies and physical assets and real estate.
Who Should You Choose as a Durable Power of Attorney?
The person you choose to manage your estate does not have to be a relative. It can be a trusted friend. If you’re afraid of one person abusing your monetary accounts, a good idea is to designate a joint durable power of attorney. This way, two people you trust can ensure everything is managed honestly and as you would have wished.
Make sure that not only your attorney has a copy of your DPA, but also your financial institutions. Your bank may even have their own forms you’ll need to complete, so be sure to talk with your bank manager in advance regarding what they might require.
It’s important to know as much as possible about laws in your state as you plan your estate. For more estate planning information visit finitylaw.com’s resource hub.
The components of your estate planning are important pieces of your portfolio. You may change your plan through the years, as many people do and that’s fine, but it’s better to have a plan than no plan. Work through the process with your attorney and let your loved ones know when your estate planning has been completed. Having this knowledge beforehand will ease any panic should you pass and allow your heirs to focus on celebrating the life you lived rather than feeling overwhelmed with questions regarding what happens next.