Estate Planning: What You Need to Know

Many people don’t want to think about their end-of-life affairs, but if they don’t plan carefully, they may leave their families out in the cold—or with a dilemma on how to handle their estate. Hiring the right estate planning attorney can help you decide how to transfer your assets while minimizing complications and simplifying or eliminating the payment of death taxes for your loved ones and surviving family members.  A well designed estate plan benefits everyone, not just “the wealthy.” Meeting with an attorney and establishing an estate plan makes the process easier, especially if you anticipate health issues or you have a lot of valuable possessions and assets.

To successfully map out your estate plan, you should find an experienced estate planning attorney who can educate you on all the options, while also helping you avoid legal pitfalls. We’ll briefly outline some different estate planning options below so you can familiarize yourself with avenues you may want to consider.

Wills

Your will is typically the foundation of your estate plan. Within this legal document, you can exercise control over the way your wealth and assets are distributed. Your will covers who inherits what property; and if you have family members, friends, or charities you want to provide for, this document will ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes.

It’s important to understand that your will is only as effective as your overall estate plan. For example, beneficiary designations that differ from the provisions of your will can undermine your intentions.  To be absolutely certain that the distributions in your will are followed, you should ensure that  the beneficiary designations on your bank accounts, retirement plans and otherfinancial assets are consistent with the directives in your will.

Trusts

trust is an arrangement that allows a third party fiduciary, or trustee, to hold assets on behalf of a beneficiary or beneficiaries. Trusts can be set up in many ways and can specify exactly how and when your assets pass to beneficiaries.  Many trusts are designed to control your assets, even after you die.  Trusts designed in this way are often set-up to benefit minors, incapacitated family members, or beneficiaries who have a track record of being poor stewards of their own finances.  Many people set up revocable trusts during their lives in an effort to avoid the probate process, however, if this is your goal, it is imperative to speak with an attorney prior to doing so.

Speaking with your family is perhaps one of the simplest and easiest things to do to pave the way for successful estate planning. Knowing what your family’s wishes are will help avoid tough conversations later on when they should be focusing on each other.

Powers of Attorney

Often, people become so focused on what happens to their estate when they die that they neglect to consider how their affairs should be handled in the event they are no longer capable of making decisions for themselves.  Financial and healthcarepowers of attorney are vitally important documents that allow you to designate someone you trust—a relative, friend,  or trusted advisor—to exercise control over your affairs in the event that you are unable to make important decisions regarding your health or finances. Without powers of attorney in place, you put your family members in the precarious position of having to petition the court for a guardianship in the event that you need someone to make decisions on your behalf. Going through the relatively inexpensive process of having a power of attorney drawn up can save your loved ones a substantial amount of money and time in court.  Powers of attorney enable those who care about you most to step in and help you  without delay.

Living Will

In the event that you are in a terminal condition andbecome incapacitated or incapable of making any final health decisions on your own, a living will can provide your wishes regarding end-of-life care to your family.  This simple document often removes a substantial burden from their shoulders and can unify their decision-making process.

If you are unsure about what you want to do with respect to your estate plan, sit down and discuss it with your spouse, members of your family or a trusted friend.  Sharing your wishes with your family is one of the best ways to ensure that your estate plan will be implemented in an efficient, conflict-free manner.  Then call a lawyer who will work to understand your goals and draft documents to ensure that your goals are met.

For a team of expert lawyers you can trust to walk you through the estate planning process, contact May, May, and Zimmerman today.