Estate planning can often be an overwhelming process. Aside from having to get your affairs in order, you are also forced to think about things you may have never thought of before. For example, what would you want to happen at the event of your death? What should be done with your home? Who would you like to give your assets to? Thus, there is a lot to consider and it can get very stressful. This is where an estate planning attorney comes in to guide you.
What is estate planning?
Estate planning is the process by which an individual arranges their assets and designates who will receive them at the event of their death or incapacitation. Its purpose is to ensure your wishes and goals are fulfilled in the best way.
When the time comes to meet with your estate planning attorney, there are a few things you can do to be prepared and make the process smoother:
One of the first things you should do is review your assets, this can be both tangible and intangible.
Tangible assets may include:
- Homes, land, real estate
- Vehicles like cars, boats, motorcycles
- Collectibles, antiques or other personal valuable possessions
Intangible assets may include:
- Checking and savings account
- Stocks, bonds, mutual funds
- Retirement plans like 401K, 403B, IRA’s, etc.
- Ownership in a business
- Life insurance policies
Once you have finished inventory of your assets, your next step should be preparing to provide documentation of financial statements, this may include but not limited to:
- Bank and investment account statements
- Business agreements
- Grant deeds to real estate
- Life insurance information
- Trademark, patent and copyright registration certificates
- Divorce agreements
- Account for Family
One of the most important steps is to discuss your wishes with your family and consider what you want to leave for them in the event that you are no longer with them. Although it may be difficult, it's important to be clear and open about your decisions, as other family members may have different views than you. Some things you may want to consider:
- Assigning a guardian for your children if need be
- Having enough life insurance
- Documenting your wishes for your family's care
- Taking consideration for special care needs of family members with disabilities
- Deciding what specific assets you want to leave for each member
- It is also important to have information on all family members (names ,ages, contact information, etc.)
- Establishing Roles
During estate planning, there are different important roles that come into play that you should think about. This includes deciding who you assign to be an:
- Executor- someone who carries out directions in a will that deals with financial affairs and assets.
- Beneficiaries- anyone you name in your estate plan to receive benefits.
- Trustee- someone who takes legal ownership of your assets held in a trust and is responsible for managing them.
- Successor trustee- someone who takes role of a trustee in the event the original trustee dies or becomes incapacitated.
- Guardian- if a minor is involved, a Guardian needs to be appointed in the event both parents die before the minor becomes an adult
- Agent (health care)- someone you give the power to make medical decisions for you if you are unable or incapacited. (a health care agent cannot override any preferences you have set in a living will)
- Durable power of attorney- a person or people you authorize to make decisions on your behalf when you are not physically or mentally capable.
- Be Prepared With Questions
Estate planning can be a tricky process, therefore you should never hesitate to ask an attorney any questions you may have. After all, they are there to help you and make this process as simple as possible !