Few things strike a chill in an adult’s heart like the prospect of planning their estate. Of all of life’s milestones -- college, buying house, getting married, having that first child -- estate planning is seen as a definitive recognition of one’s mortality. Estate planning is an essential task that everyone should do, not for themselves, but for their spouse, their children, and all those they will leave behind in the event of their death. With the proper preparation, estate planning does not have to be a dreaded chore.
It is important to understand that estate planning is far more than simply drawing up a will. A successful estate plan will take into consideration not just the allocation of personal effects after your death, but also such things as guardianship of your children or the granting of power of attorney in the event of your incapacitation.
The key to successful estate planning is to go into that first meeting prepared.
Here are a few points to consider for that initial meeting:
- Prepare a rough financial statement listing all of your assets and liabilities. Include a rough estimate of their value, and whether the asset or liability belongs solely to you or if it is shared with a spouse or another person. This is a particularly critical step as it can help guide your attorney in formulating tax or financial strategies to help maximize your estate value
- Prepare a list of personal property or personal belongings that you wish to go to a specific person, and to whom they should be granted. This can be a particularly touchy subject for families and their children; for this reason, it is common for one spouse to leave their belongings to the surviving spouse to be allocated by them or to be allocated later upon the surviving spouse’s death.
- If you have minor children, you will need to decide who will act as their guardians if both parents die before the children reach 18 years of age. It is also a good idea to name alternate guardians if your first choice is unable or unwilling to assume the responsibility.
- You will need to name an executor of your will. The executor is the person responsible for gathering all your assets, making sure all debts and liabilities belong to the estate are settled, and that your property and other assets are distributed according to your will.
- Consider establishing a trust for you children. This is particularly important for minor children. A trust locks away assets until the inheriting party reaches a certain age or meets specific criteria -- as set by you -- such as attending college in order to withdraw funds from the trust account. Trusts can be set up to allocate funds at predetermined intervals, assuring a cash flow for the recipient. Trusts also have the added benefit of being safe from seizure during a divorce or bankruptcy procedure.
- Finally, be prepared to discuss naming a health care proxy and the granting of a power of attorney. A health care proxy is someone who will be allowed to make decisions regarding your health care in the event you are incapacitated or otherwise unable to make those decisions. A power of attorney is similar, but is used in financial and legal matters. A person who has been granted power of attorney over your affairs has the legal right act on your behalf in all property and legal matters in the event you are mentally or otherwise incapacitated and unable to act on your own behalf.
Successful estate planning does not have to be a chore, and our experienced legal team will work hard to make sure you make the right decisions to ensure the future of your family.
Contact us today to start preparing for that future.