Think of estate planning as life planning. Having an estate plan means you and your family have expressed wishes for the future, while you are living if you become incapacitated and when you pass away. According to a recent article, “Estate Planning: 7 Things To Make Sure You Do” from aol.com, taking these steps while you’re healthy and of sound mind is the best time to get your estate plan done.
An estate plan includes a will and other important documents. Dying without an estate plan can drag loved ones into long and costly probate to determine how assets should be distributed. With an estate plan, you give yourself and your loved ones peace of mind.
The estate plan includes:
- A last will and testament
- Power of attorney in case of incapacity
- Medical directives
- Naming a guardian for minor children
- Business succession plans
Create an inventory of assets, including financial and bank accounts, insurance policies and contact information for any professionals, including your estate planning attorney, accountant, financial advisor, etc. You should also make copies of estate planning documents, mortgage, deed to the house, titles to cars and any other property. Keep these documents in a secure place, like a fire and waterproof home file, and make sure family members know where they can access this information in an emergency.
Don’t neglect your social media and digital assets. What do you want to happen to these digital assets when you die? The terms of service vary from platform to platform, so you’ll need to create an inventory of these accounts and determine if they have a “legacy” option where someone else can gain access to the accounts to gather data, download photos and music, or gain control of assets.
Name a Power of Attorney to make financial and legal decisions, if you can’t do so for yourself. You have to name your spouse if you want them to have this power; it is not automatic. Without it, your spouse will not be able to access accounts or property which may be in your name only. To do so, your spouse or a family member will have to petition the court to assign a guardian or conservator to manage finances.
Appoint a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare to name someone to make medical decisions regarding healthcare and end-of-life care if you are unable to do so yourself. Depending on your state, there may be limits to who can be designed to serve in this role. An estate planning attorney will be able to help you with choosing the right person.
Create healthcare and medical directives. A medical directive outlines the medical care you would want if you are unable to make your own healthcare decisions, such as what forms of life support you would or would not want to receive.
A living trust allows you to transfer property to heirs without needing to go through probate. If you have a will, any property in your name only will go through probate. However, if assets are transferred to a living trust, they can avoid probate altogether, avoiding delay and expenses.
Write funeral instructions in a separate document, but not in your will, as your will may not be read until after death. Specify what kind of memorial service you want and whether or not you want to be buried or cremated, or if you’ve made any arrangements already, like buying a grave site.
Creating a comprehensive plan is a bit of an undertaking. However, it is vital to protect yourself and your loved ones. It’s also not something you do once and never look at again. As life circumstances and laws change, it’s important to reassess your plan every three to five years to ensure that it still achieves your goals.
Reference: aol.com (Feb. 20, 2023) “Estate Planning: 7 Things To Make Sure You Do”