Preparing an estate plan helps prevent confusion, avoid financial distress and preserve family harmony after you’re gone. Here are some things to think about as you ponder your estate plan and how you would like to keep the peace.
Create a Will
A large part of estate planning is making sure your assets (money and belongings) are distributed appropriately. A Will is the most common legal document someone can use to specify who will receive their assets upon death. The distribution takes place through a court-appointed process called probate. Keep in mind that a Will is generally not used to allocate assets owned via joint tenancy or those which include designated beneficiaries, such as insurance policies and retirement accounts. An important component of executing an estate plan is assuring that all your beneficiary designations are up to date and consistent with the overall plan.
Trusts are like a bowl of candy. The trust is the bowl, and the pieces of candy inside are your assets. A trustee is assigned to manage the trust (the candy bowl) and doles out pieces of candy based on the trust’s instructions. Essentially, a trust makes sure your money goes where you want it to go in the manner you want it to go there without a probate.
Powers of Attorney
If an accident or illness ever leaves you unable to make your own decisions, a power of attorney agent is there to make them for you. The agent named in a financial power of attorney is authorized to assist with your business affairs while the agent in a healthcare power of attorney with making medical decisions on your behalf. Importantly, executing powers of attorney is something to do before you lose capacity. If you elect not to proceed with POAs and your cognitive health experiences a downturn, it is possible that you might not be able to execute the documents any longer because you must be able to understand what you’re signing in order for it to be valid.
Special Needs Planning
If you’re the parent of a child (minor or adult) with a disability, then your estate plan likely needs to be customized to assure stable living conditions when you are gone along with access to critical public benefits that can provide healthcare and perhaps even housing. Special needs planning typically involves one or more special needs trusts designed to protect your child long into the future.
Long-Term Care Planning
Even if you live to be 100 years old, there may come a time when you need extra care. With good planning, it is possible that you might never need to leave home. At the same time, many people end up needing expensive long-term care either in an assisted living facility or nursing care setting. To the extent that the former can cost $50,000 - $75,000 per year and the latter can even exceed $100,000 per year, it is imperative to plan ahead. Believe it or not, there are often government resources (Medicaid, VA) which can play a significant role in the provision of needed care as long as you play by their rules. While those rules generally frown on gifting, there are various exceptions that can prove very beneficial if applicable.
It is entirely possible that several of these planning options might be helpful to you and your family. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to reach out and ask.