Most people may put off developing an estate plan; however, as an estate lawyer can attest, estate planning plays an essential role in managing and protecting a person’s wealth and assets. Estate planning helps ensure there is a plan while a person is still alive and also allows for a seamless transition after a person has passed away. A robust estate plan involves allocating and managing an individual’s estate during their lifetime and after death while minimizing associated tax obligations.W.B. Moore Law has provided several key elements that can help contribute to a comprehensive and well-structured estate plan.
- Will: The will is perhaps the cornerstone of any estate plan. It delineates how an individual wants their assets distributed after they pass away. Without a valid will, the distribution of assets defaults to state intestacy laws, which may not align with the individual’s preferences.
- Trusts: Trusts are legal agreements that allow a third party, or trustee, to hold and manage assets on behalf of the trust’s beneficiaries. Trusts can control the distribution of assets, protect assets from creditors, and potentially reduce estate taxes. There are many types of trusts, and they can be structured in ways that meet an individual’s unique needs and goals.
- Durable Power of Attorney: This legal document authorizes an individual (the attorney-in-fact) to act on your behalf in legal or financial matters should you become incapacitated. A power of attorney can be general, covering all affairs, or limited to specific issues.
- Health Care Proxy: Also known as a medical power of attorney, this legal document allows you to appoint someone to make medical decisions for you if you cannot do so. It ensures that your healthcare wishes are followed when you need to be in a position to communicate them.
- Living Will: This document outlines the types of medical treatment you wish to receive or not receive if you become incapacitated. A living will include resuscitation, life support, and pain management wishes.
- Beneficiary Designations: Certain assets, such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts, allow you to name a beneficiary who will receive the assets upon your death. These designations override any instructions left in your will, so it’s crucial to keep them updated and in line with your overall estate plan.
- Guardianship Designations: If you have minor children, it’s vital to designate a legal guardian in your will to take care of them should something happen to you and your spouse. Without a clear designation, the court will decide who will care for your children.
- Asset Inventory: A comprehensive list of your assets is crucial for a proper estate plan. This includes tangible assets (like real estate, vehicles, and jewelry), intangible assets (like bank accounts, stocks, and bonds), and digital assets (like social media accounts, online banking, and cryptocurrency).
- Letter of Intent: While not legally binding, a letter of intent can provide additional guidance for the executor of your estate and beneficiaries. It can include your wishes about personal items, funeral arrangements, or any other details you want to convey.
- Regular Reviews and Updates: An estate plan is not a set-and-forget document. Regular reviews are necessary to ensure the plan remains current with life changes such as births, deaths, marriage, divorce, and changes in financial status.
Because estate planning can be complex and its laws vary by location, consulting with an experienced estate planning lawyer is advisable. They can provide guidance, helping navigate legal intricacies and ensuring that your plan aligns with your goals and complies with current law. By attending to these critical elements, you can create a robust estate plan that provides your loved ones peace of mind and security.