Everyone benefits from having an estate plan. If you own property, investments, or anything of value, you need an estate plan. If you have family or dependents, you need an estate plan. Estate planning directs how assets are directed, if you become incapacitated or when you die.
The checklist for creating an estate plan includes a will, powers of attorney and assigning beneficiary account designations. Using an estate planning lawyer ensures that your plan meets all legal requirements, according to the article “What is estate planning? A strategy to safeguard your family and your finances, and ensure your plans for them get carried out as you wish” from Business Insider.
In this usage, “estate” means the things you own. An estate plan inventories everything, including your home, cars, bank accounts, life insurance policies, retirement accounts and personal possessions. It outlines in writing exactly what you want to happen with your property. It also directs who you want to handle your affairs during life and after death and who you want to inherit your assets.
Why does estate planning matter? If you die without a will, your assets may get tied up in probate, where the court oversees the distribution of your estate according to your state’s laws. Without a will and the tax planning part of estate planning, your estate may shrink and your heirs receive less.
The will is just the start of a comprehensive estate plan. It details where you want your assets to go and names an executor who will oversee your estate. If you have minor children, the will is where you name a guardian to raise your children.
A durable power of attorney designates a person to act on your behalf for legal and financial matters if you become incapacitated. Without it, family members will not be able to file tax returns, collect government benefits, manage investments and handle any financial transactions. They’ll need to go to court and have a judge appoint someone to manage these and other tasks. It’s far easier and less expensive to have this document in place than to get the courts involved.
A health care power of attorney is your opportunity to name someone to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. This includes choosing doctors, deciding what tests to run and whether you want to have surgery or certain treatments.
You’ll want a living will to ensure your wishes for end-of-life decisions are followed. A living will also relieves your loved one of the enormous burden of determining “what Mom would have wanted” if you become terminally ill, enter the late stages of dementia, are seriously injured, in a coma, or near the end of your life. What extreme measures do you want to be taken to prolong your life? What would you not want to be done to maintain your life?
Beneficiary designations are the forms to be completed when you open a retirement account or purchase a life insurance policy. Beneficiary designations override any instructions for these accounts set out in your will, so its very important to review and update them regularly.
Trusts are used to take assets out of your probate estate. A trust is created by an estate planning attorney and upon death, assets are distributed according to the directions of the trust. If you own a lot of assets, trusts are a useful tool to avoid estate and inheritance taxes.
Digital asset protection trusts are a way to legally transfer domain names, social media accounts and other digital assets to heirs upon your death. Emails, text messages, cloud-based storage accounts, websites and social media accounts all need to be inventoried and a plan needs to be in place to protect these assets.
Reference: Business Insider (Sep. 22, 2022) “What is estate planning? A strategy to safeguard your family and your finances, and ensure your plans for them get carried out as you wish”