The last thing anyone wants to do is plan for their death. There are a lot of important decisions you need to make decisions you shouldn’t leave to your loved ones. These include saving for and planning your funeral, appointing a power of attorney, designating beneficiaries for all your accounts, setting up your kids especially if they’re fairly young, planning your estate, and setting up your last will and testament. This last one is probably one of the most important things you’ll have to do. Drawing up a will isn’t as easy as you may imagine. Most people hear the word will and think it’s a fairly simple process.
The idea most people have is that it requires a few minutes to designate the recipients of all your worldly belongings. But that isn’t true. In fact, there are many important facets to the document you have to consider right down to how you word it. If you have a lot of assets, run a business, and have more than one child and/or grandchildren, you need to take some time to make careful decisions about what happens after you die. Doing so now will help those you leave behind in the end. Make a list of all your assets, your home, vehicles, any valuables along with all of your financial accounts such as checking and savings accounts, certificates of deposit (CDs), and life insurance policies. Then jot down all of your dependents and who inherits each asset. Also note if there are any special considerations you’d like to include in your will such as when minors inherit your assets, how accounts will be split up, or what happens to your home after you die. You can try drafting the will yourself or you can hire a lawyer to do the work for you. But even if you hire an attorney, you’ll still have to make these important decisions on your own. We’ll look at the benefits and drawbacks of both a little later in this article.
The fee for having a basic will written can be as little as $150 fairly reasonable and affordable for most people. Consider purchasing a do-it-yourself will creation kit that can be purchased online or in stores for less. These are generally templates you can fill in with your pertinent information online. If you require more complicated or additional estate planning documents, be prepared to dish out more cash. It can cost $1,000 or more in advanced situations. But this may be too generic for you, leaving you the option to hire a professional. The low end for having a lawyer draft a will is around $300, but it can easily cost $1,000 or more if your situation is more complicated. Do-it-yourself kits to create and file a legally enforceable will have gained in popularity due to the minimal cost involved. If you don’t have a lot of complicated issues about your final wishes, your finances are fairly straightforward, and you don’t have any children, this may be the most suitable option for you. Kits can be purchased for as little as $10, so they give you the option of drawing your will at your convenience without having to pay an outrageous cost. There is a lot less time involved, and you can generally make updates at your leisure without much difficulty or cost. Before you settle with one of these kits, make sure you understand everything the kit entails including the legal language. You don’t want to sign a document you don’t fully understand. Also consider whether the document is enforceable in your state, as some documents don’t coincide with guidelines in certain areas. You may be required to have witnesses or have your document notarized.
The best option is to hire a lawyer if you have a complicated situation, a lot of assets, many beneficiaries, and a lot of dependents. While the decisions of what happens to your estate after you die are yours, an attorney can guide you through the process and help you word your will properly so there are no mistakes. After all, you are paying for legal advice, so it makes sense that you get the full benefit of an error-free will.
Advantages of Estate Planning
Taking care of your family has always been the number one priority in your life, and that isn’t going to change. The best way to make sure they are taken care of after you pass is to establish an estate plan while you are still of sound mind. Here are the advantages of creating an estate plan:
• Provide for your immediate family: The estate plan will provide enough money for your surviving spouse to continue to care for the family. If both you and your spouse pass, an estate plan will name appointed guardians to care for your children.
• Ensure property goes to the right beneficiaries: Your estate plan will outline exactly where your assets are to go in the event of your death. This leaves no questions to be resolved by the courts or cause for family discord.
• Minimize the expenses and taxes: When you take care to create an estate plan, you should be able to keep the cost of transferring any property to your named beneficiaries.
• Ease the burdens of your family: It can be difficult to plan the funeral of a loved one when grieving. When working on your estate plan, you can outline your wishes for funeral arrangements and even set aside funds for them. This takes some of the burden off your family during this difficult time.
• Support a favorite cause: If you are passionate about a local cause or charitable organization, an estate plan can allow you to support them after your passing.
• Plan for any kind of incapacity: Life is unpredictable. If you should ever become mentally or physically incapacitated, an estate plan will outline your wishes regarding life and who will make medical decisions on your behalf.
• Reduce taxes that take place on your estate: By crafting an estate plan, you should be able to minimize the amount of taxes collected on your estate, which results in your beneficiaries keeping more of the money you set aside for them.
• Establish trustees over your estate: You’ll need someone to serve as the executor of your estate to make sure everything is handled properly. Your estate plan will name this person, which will save money and simplify the administration process.
• Provide for those who many need help: Do you have a child who has a disability? Or perhaps you have grandchildren who will be attending college in the future. Through your estate plan, you can set up a special trust to provide funds to support them.
• Ensure a business continues with a succession plan: If you own your own business, you’ll want to establish some kind of plan to keep it going after you pass. An estate plan will name your successor and outline what happens to your interest in the business.
As you can see, there is a lot that goes into estate planning, and none of these areas are ones you want to leave up in the air. By working with professional estate planning attorneys, you can make sure you have thought of everything. Without a will, your property may not go to who you want. Much of it can be tied up in probate for years, which means your family won’t get the assets they want and potentially need until it’s all settled. You can’t make assumptions that everything is going to go the way you want. Legal documentation is the only way to ensure your wishes are met.
• Loss of control: Once an asset is in the irrevocable trust, you no longer have direct control over it. However, in the case of a husband and wife, it is possible to create separate trusts for each, thereby collectively maintaining control. There are many pitfalls with this technique, such as observance of the Reciprocal Trust Doctrine, so this strategy should only be employed with the assistance of a skilled estate planning attorney.
• Fairly Rigid terms: Irrevocable trusts are not very flexible. Once the terms are established, they can be difficult to change.
• The Three-Year Rule: If you include life insurance in an irrevocable trust and pass away within three years, the proceeds return to your estate and become taxable.
• The Five-Year Rule: If you put assets in an irrevocable trust and need Medicaid within a five-year period, you may have to repay all prior transfers to the trust by covering the costs of a nursing home privately. Only after you have repaid all gifted assets will you be eligible for Medicaid.
Because they have such strong advantages and disadvantages, the suitability of an irrevocable trust depends on a person’s individual circumstances. An experienced estate planner can help you decide if such an arrangement is right for you, or if you would be better off setting up a revocable trust instead.
Estate Planning Process
As you go through life, you’re likely to accumulate some amount of wealth, assets and even just family treasures. What will happen to all those things if you die or become incapacitated? That’s where estate planning comes in. An estate plan allows you to legally specify your wishes and how you want them carried out. A well-crafted estate plan can help avoid disputes that may arise and can keep details about your family’s financial affairs private. When you’re ready to work with a qualified attorney and financial planner to write your estate plan, here are some of the key steps you’ll go through:
• Create an inventory of what you own and what you owe: Compile a comprehensive list of your assets and debts, including account numbers and contact information, as well as names and contact information for your important advisers. Keep the summary in a secure, central location along with original copies of important documents and provide a copy of the summary for the executor of your will. This list could be a piece of paper or also a digital file kept in a secure location.
• Develop a contingency plan: An estate plan allows you to control what would happen to your property and assets if you or your spouse passed away today. It also puts a documented plan in place so that if you became incapacitated, your family could carry on your affairs without having to go through court. This includes a strategy for providing income if you were to become disabled and covering potential expenses for care giving that may be needed at some point.
• Provide for children and dependents: A primary goal for many estate plans is to protect and provide for loved ones and their future needs. Your estate plan should include provisions for any children, including naming a guardian for children under age 18 and providing for those from a previous marriage if you remarry, your assets may not automatically pass to them. It also would specifically address the care and income of children or relatives with special needs that must be planned carefully to avoid jeopardizing eligibility for government benefits.
• Protect your assets: A key component of estate planning involves protecting your assets for heirs and your charitable legacy by minimizing expenses, and covering estate taxes while still meeting your goals. If necessary, your estate plan would include specific strategies for transferring or disposing of unique assets like a family-owned business, real estate or investment property, or stock in a closely held business. Many people use permanent life insurance and trusts to protect assets while ensuring future goals can be met.
• Document your wishes: If you want your assets distributed in a certain way to meet financial or personal goals, you need to have legal documentation to ensure those wishes are followed if you die or become incapacitated. This includes designating beneficiaries for your life insurance policies, retirement accounts and other assets that are in line with your goals. It also means ensuring that titles of material assets, such as automobiles and property, are named properly. Work with an attorney to be sure you have an updated will disposing of your assets, a living will reflecting your end-of-life wishes, as well as powers of attorney for health-care and financial matters.
• Appoint fiduciaries: To execute your estate plan, you must designate someone to act on your behalf if you are unable to do so as executor of your will, trustee for your assets, legal guardian for your dependents or personal representative or power of attorney if you became incapacitated. You need to be sure your fiduciaries are aware of and agree to their appointments, and that they know where to find your original estate planning documents. Fiduciaries can be family members, personal friends or hired professionals such as bankers, attorneys or corporate trustees. Whether you are just starting out or have accumulated wealth over a lifetime, an up-to-date estate plan helps you minimize the impact of unexpected events on you and your family by preserving, protecting and managing your assets. A financial advisor can help you create a financial security plan to meet your goals, and provide tools and resources to build an estate plan that makes an impact well into the future.
Estate Planning Lawyer Free Consultation
If you are here, you probably have an estate issue you need help with, call Ascent Law for your free estate law consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506