Estate Planning is something that every person should do. It does not have to be overly complex, expensive, or time-consuming but it is necessary for those that care about how their affairs will be handled when something happens to them in the future. It is not just an exercise for “Wealthy” people and most people should at least complete some or all of these minimal estate planning tasks.
Make a Will:
A will or testament is a document that instructs how one’s estate should be distributed at death and names who will be the executor of these instructions. Another important function for younger couples is naming guardianship of minor children.
Wills are essential in determining how your assets and estate will be broken up and who will be responsible for executing your instructions. If you die without a will (called intestate), it could end up costing your heirs a considerable amount of time, money and frustration. Additionally, without careful consideration and planning, your heirs could fight over your estate; destroying relationships as well as squandering the assets you have worked hard to save/build.
This is the cornerstone of your estate plan and can generally be done efficiently and for low cost.
Financial Power of Attorney (PoA):
If you become incapacitated and cannot handle your own affairs, or are otherwise indisposed, this legal document can make sure that you have an agent that can take care of the duties/powers that you grant to them. To be clear, this document is used before the individual that grants the power dies. A PoA can be used to grant a wide range of powers and can be written to be effective always or triggered by specific events/circumstances.* A PoA can be an invaluable tool to continue to provide financial continuity when an incapacitating event strikes an individual.
*You should consult an attorney to see if and what type of PoA might be suitable in your circumstances.
An often over-looked, but simple and very important, estate planning task is to update the beneficiaries on your retirement plan(s), insurance policies, and/or annuities. This task is often forgotten or put off to another day, however, it is very important to keep these designations up-to-date.
First of all, beneficiary designations on these plans generally skip probate and override any instructions in the will. So many people will incorrectly assume that if they update their will that everything will go to whom they designated in the will. This can be a devastating mistake for people with large estates, divorcees, non-traditional families, etc.
Updating beneficiaries can be a relatively easy task with today’s ability to update online, but it should not be overlooked because it is easy to forget the last time you updated a particular plan/policy so one should review beneficiaries on an on-going basis just to make sure that the correct individuals are named in the right percentages.
Consider Health Care Power of Attorney* and/or Living Will+:
While neither of these documents is overtly necessary for most individuals, many people may want or need to have them based on their individual circumstances.
Many people have a non-traditional partner, or other individual, that they would like to make medical decisions for them that their state may not recognize as having the power to do so. In this case, a Healthcare Power of Attorney can legally specify this person to make decisions for you. Many people may believe that it is unnecessary or that it is only a grey area, but this document can clarify any uncertainties and remove any perceived liability from a medical institution. Either way, if you believe that this may be your situation or you are unsure then you should consult your attorney about a Healthcare Power of Attorney.
A living will is a document which instructs one’s family and medical institution/professional on how to handle their medical wishes when they can no longer make decision due to illness or incapacity.
* Also known as Health care proxy.
+ Also known as a Advance health care directive.
Make an inventory of all your assets/accounts and professionals:
Perhaps one of the easiest but most painful estate planning techniques that is over-looked is simple organization. Just sit down and make a list of all assets, liabilities, and professionals so that your heirs/executor can figure out where everything is located and what it’s worth. Many of the worst horror stories of closing estates/probate come from the fact that the executor/heirs cannot locate all of the property of the deceased or find property long after the estate closes. This does not have to happen with just a couple of hours of planning/organization on our part!
This is an area that we excel in helping our clients go well beyond the norm, which you can see a short demo in this video:
How we help our Full-Service Clients:
- We help our clients find an attorney.
- Work along-side our clients’ attorneys to create their estate plan,
- Monitor the plan on an on-going basis and keep the plan up-to-date.
- Determine when we need to retain formal legal services in the future to update/a;ter the plan.
- This can be very important to keeping your plan up-to-date while significantly reducing legal costs.
- We will help to organize everything in our rFPW and Vault so that you and your future heirs can most effectively benefit from your prudent planning.
- We help our clients implement their estate plan, shop for investments, products, etc. as a fiduciary, which means that we have a legal responsibility to represent your best interests first.