Estate planning attorneys always emphasize the fact that there is no one universal approach that is right for each and every person. The optimal way to proceed will depend upon the circumstances, and this one of the major reasons why it is important to work with a qualified lawyer.
This being stated, there are certain core components that an estate planning will have in a general sense. Let’s look at the essentials that should be addressed in every estate plan.
Far too many people assume that a will is the right choice as the document that you should use to express your final wishes. In reality, a last will is usually not going to be the best choice unless the situation is extremely simple and straightforward.
Why is a will inadequate in a lot of cases? One reason why a will is less than ideal is the fact that it would be admitted to probate. This is a costly and time-consuming legal process that strips your family of privacy, because probate records are available to anyone that is interested in them.
There are also limitations when you use a last will. Unless you include a testamentary trust as part of the plan, the will would facilitate lump-sum asset transfers. This can be a source of concern if you have people on your inheritance list that are not great at handling money.
In addition to your desires, you also have to consider the life situation of the individuals that will be receiving inheritances. For example, people with special needs typically rely on Medicaid for health insurance, and they get income through the Supplemental Security Income program.
These are need-based government benefits, so an improvement in financial status can cause a loss of eligibility. If you name someone that is in this position in a last will, they would directly receive an inheritance, and this could impact benefit eligibility going forward.
This is just one example, but there are other reasons why a will would not be the best choice to provide for some people.
There are a number of different types of trusts that can be used to satisfy various estate planning aims. They are definitely not strictly used by wealthy individuals, and some of them wouldn’t even be appropriate for high net worth families. Once again, you should explore your options thoroughly with the benefit of professional guidance.
One of the cold hard truths that you should understand when you are thinking about the future is the possibility of latter life incapacity. It is not a pleasant thing to consider, but about one third of people that are 85 years of age and older have Alzheimer’s disease.
This is not the only cause of incapacity, so you should definitely prepare for this eventuality in advance. If you do not, people close to you could petition the state to appoint a guardian to act on your behalf. You would become a ward of the state, and this is not a very pleasant fate.
A guardianship can be avoided if you take the right steps to prepare for possible incapacity. If you have a living trust, you could name a disability trustee that would administer the trust in the event of your incapacity.
Another document that you can use if you do not have a trust is a durable power of attorney for property. The agent that you choose would be able to act as your representative if you ever become incapacitated.
You should actually have one of these documents even if you have a living trust, because the agent would be able to manage property that was never conveyed into the trust.
Advance Directives for Health Care
The last pieces to the basic estate plan puzzle are advance directives for health care. With a living will, you state your preferences regarding the utilization of life-sustaining measures.
You would add a durable power of attorney for health care to name an agent to make medical decisions on your behalf. These would be decisions that are not directly connected to life-support matters.
Another document that is necessary is a HIPAA release form. This will give health care professionals the ability to speak freely with the person or people that you name on the form.
Attend a Free Webinar!
We have scheduled a number of webinars that you can attend to obtain some important information about the estate planning process. There is no charge, and you can check out the dates and obtain registration information if you visit our webinar page.