Estate planning is recommended to ensure that your loved ones will be properly cared for and that your affairs are managed according to your wishes. The loss of a loved one can be extremely stressful, having a comprehensive estate plan provides your family peace of mind, saves time, and lightens the burden on key decisions regarding the handling of your medical and financial wishes. Legal professionals like the experienced team found beyond our doors make drafting an estate plan easier. Experienced financial advisors can help you make sure you don’t miss any important pieces and address all your financial estate planning needs.
Today, we’ll be briefly covering how to start creating an estate plan. However, if you do have any questions about estate planning, wills, probate and administration, we strongly encourage you to contact us.
- Appoint a Qualified Wills & Estate Attorney– hiring a seasoned attorney is a first critical step. Estate planning is an essential decision that involves your family and your finances including taxable and non-taxable obligations. Specifically, because it is such a detailed, highly complex and time-consuming effort, the slightest mistake can prove disastrous. It is recommended you hire a well-qualified and experienced attorney who can assist you devise a well-constructed estate plan.
- Make a List of Your Assets– once you appoint a lawyer, you will be asked to calculate your net worth. The best method is to make a comprehensive list of all your assets and debts. Once your exhaustive list is ready bring it to your financial professional or attorney who can help you calculate your net worth by adding your assets including investments, bank accounts, personal property (like jewelry art, furniture), cash value of any insurance policies, retirement plan – 401K and IRA, and owned cars, etc. and subtract that from your debts or liabilities including mortgages, personal or business loans, other borrowings, credit card balance, and student loans, etc. Doing this activity will help your attorney assess if your estate will be liable for any federal, state, or local taxes.
- Will vs. Living Trust – an estate plan begins with the drafting of either a will or living trust. While you might be aware of these legal terms it is important to know their mechanisms and implications in order to make a sound decision. Both a will or living trust have advantages and disadvantages that serves different purposes
- The key differences include the fact that a will addresses possessions and inheritances of your assets to beneficiaries of your choice. However, assets mentioned in a will must go through the state’s probate process before it can be distributed to your beneficiaries which can be time consuming. There are exceptions regarding which assets go through probate.
- A living trust appoints a trustee to manage the assets of the Estate and gives the trustee the right to disperse the assets to your designated loved ones. We recommend that you discuss the intricacies of both a will and living trust and seek advice from an attorney to make the right decision that benefits you and your family.
- Establish a power of attorney– a power of attorney is a legal document that grants another person(s) the ability to make financial or medical decisions on your behalf in the event that you became incapacitated. Financial and medical powers of attorney are generally two different legal documents thus it may make sense to appoint two different people.
- For a financial power of attorney consider someone you trust wholeheartedly. This person will be responsible for opening your mail, contacting your banking institutions, transferring your assets, and paying your bills when necessary.
- A medical power of attorney also known as a health care proxy, depending on where you live and how it is drafted empowers a designated individual(s) of your choice to make medical decisions on your behalf. This person(s) will use your living will as a guide for determining the quality care you desire including whether or not to resuscitate you in the event you become comatose. Hence it is imperative that you have an in-depth conversation with your person(s) of choice to gain mutual understanding of your medical preferences.
- Appoint Your Beneficiaries– keep in mind that not all assets are passed on to your survivors through the probate process, particularly those of sentimental but not necessarily monetary value. When you create your estate plan, it is important to present the beneficiary forms to your attorney to ensure that it covers all of your assets. Be certain that the name of your beneficiaries is properly spelled and all relevant information is accurate and current which will simplify the probate process and curtail the need to pay additional fees.
- Organize Your Documents and Files– estate planning is not just about sorting a legal matter it is also about making life easier for your family and the executors. Storing the affairs of your estate (including relevant papers, documents, and digital files) and ensuring they are accessible to your family and heirs will help save thousands of dollars in managing the legal, accounting and administration matters.
As previously mentioned, an estate plan can dramatically reduce the stress on your family. Estate planning is not a one-time exercise rather it is a lifelong process that keeps evolving as your life progresses. Our experienced team has over 25 years of estate planning experience and can help you devise a plan that will work best for you and your family. The estate planning attorneys at The Law Offices of Marjory Cajoux are ready and committed to provide you best possible service and support.