Estate Planning & Probate
WHAT IS ESTATE PLANNING?
Estate Planning is about developing plans to protect the assets people have worked to accumulate during their lifetimes, and to make sure these assets are later distributed or used as they choose under the supervision of the proper person(s).
BASIC ESTATE PLANNING DOCUMENTS
Wills: This document governs the disposition of your probate estate and appoints the person of your choice to carry out your plan. There are many different approaches wills can take to address different goals, needs, and circumstances.
Trusts: A trust is an estate panning tool in which your property is held and managed by a trustee for the benefit of one or more persons (beneficiaries), and according to the trust provisions tailored to meet your wishes. There are many different approaches trusts can take to address different goals, needs, and circumstances.
Living Will (Declaration as to Medical and Surgical Treatment): This document states your wishes and intentions regarding life-sustaining treatment should you be in a persistent vegetative state or have a terminal condition with no reasonable prognosis that you will recover, and be unable to communicate you wishes regarding such treatment.
Durable Medical Power of Attorney: This document states your wishes as to who should make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so.
General Durable Power of Attorney: This document states your wishes as to who should make financial decisions and manage your affairs if you are unable to do so.
Guardianship Declaration: This document sets forth your wishes regarding the appointment of guardians for your minor children, should you die or become incapacitated.
ESTATE PLANNING CONSIDERATIONS
How do you want to give your final gifts?
During your lifetime, you give gifts for various occasions: birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, etc. For the important people in your life, you spend much time and thought in choosing the right gift and wrapping. The same attention should be given to preparing your estate plan. The gifts you give through your estate plan will not only be the last gifts you give, but may also be the largest gifts you give.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT WILLS AND ESTATE PLANNING
What is estate planning? I don’t have an estate, so why do I need to plan?
Estate planning is the process of: (1) analyzing your assets—what are your assets and how do you own your assets; (2) deciding how you want your assets to be owned and managed during your lifetime; and (3) deciding how you want to pass on your assets upon your death. Many people do not think they have an estate because they have not taken the time to analyze and organize exactly what they have. The estate planning process can be as important for your lifetime goals as it is for planning how you want to distribute your assets upon your death.
Preparing Your Estate Plan Checklist
• Take an inventory of your assets, including your home, interests in a business, jewelry, stocks and bonds, bank accounts, insurance, retirement plans, and other property.
• Take note how your property is owned (by you individually, your business, you and your spouse jointly, etc.)
• Review how you have titled real property, accounts, and other assets.
• Review how you have designated beneficiaries in instruments that require beneficiary designations (retirement accounts, life insurance policies, certain annuities, etc.)
• Take an inventory of your debts.
• Describe your estate goals and specific family concerns.
• Decide whom you would like to receive your assets, including specific designations, and in what amounts/proportions (spouse, children, grandchildren, friends, charities, etc.)
• Decide if there should be restrictions on the activities for which your assets can be used (child’s education, charity).
• Decide who should be:
1) the personal representative (executor) of your estate;
2) the agent(s) under your powers of attorney;
3) the trustee(s) under any trusts;
4) the guardian of your minor children.
ESTATE PLANNING CHECK-UP
Your estate plan was created so that your wishes will be carried out after your death. If you have already created an estate plan, you want to make sure that changes in circumstances or your wishes are reflected in your current estate plan. If you have encountered any of the following circumstances, you may want to revise your estate plan.
• Change in marital status (yours or a family member’s)
• Birth or adoption of a child (yours or a family member’s)
• Substantial increase in the value of your estate
• Long-term disability of a spouse, dependent child, or grandchild
• Formation of a new business or change in existing business
• Change in personal circumstances which renders your previous choice of guardian, trustee, personal representative, etc. inaccurate.
• Desire to change the beneficiaries and/or amounts allocated to each beneficiary