Estate planning usually involves preparing Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Living Wills. While these documents may not themselves be especially complicated, most persons and families have unique issues or concerns that require special consideration and drafting. Critical to preparing appropriate documents for you is the opportunity to discuss carefully the specific circumstances, needs and desires to be written into your estate plan.
Here are some general thoughts to get you started thinking through the process.
Last Will and Testament
- General Information. In preparing a Will, knowing your “family tree” is very important. We will discuss your family in detail, but it would help if you could prepare in advance a list of all of your immediate family members. Again, each family is special, so immediate family may include you, your parents, kids, grandkids, brothers and sisters, or other relatives or friends who may play an important part in your Will. Helpful information would include for each: name and address, date of birth, name of spouse and date and place of marriage. You don’t need to be exhaustive; it’s just to help gather information on your family as it relates to your Will.
- Special Needs. It is not unusual for a family to have some special need or concern that should be addressed in their Will. For example, that may be a child with disability, or very young children who would need a guardian if both parents were to die suddenly. It would help to identify those needs and consider the decisions you may need to make to address them. That may include identifying who you would choose as guardian for your children. If a trust is needed, consider who may be the best trustee.
- Special Bequests. We will discuss how your personal property (jewelry, furniture, etc.) will be distributed on your death, but if you would like to make special, specific gifts of property or cash to certain persons or charities, for example, please consider who they may be and what or how much you are considering for the gift.
- Distribution on First Death (for married couples). For most married couples, the appropriate plan is to pass everything to the surviving spouse on the first death. But that isn’t always true, especially for those with a “your-mine-and-ours” family tree. If you are one of the latter it is especially important to discuss with your spouse your expectations for distribution on the first death. And remember that either of you could go first—regardless of age or health—so consider both scenarios. Even if you don’t have the answer, begin the discussion.
- General Distribution on Death. This is the ultimate question. Given all of your “stuff”—your house, bank accounts, IRA, etc.—where should it go on your death, whether you’re a single person or a surviving spouse. Your descendants are your natural heirs so consider how to handle children and grandchildren. If a child predeceases you, should their children get their share? A child’s spouse is not your heir and would be excluded unless specifically addressed. And if you’re single with no children, your heirs are your parents, siblings and their children.
- Your Executor. You will need to nominate someone to serve as Executor of your estate, and someone as the alternate if needed. Someone familiar with your affairs is ideal, whether family or friend. Being an Executor is not that difficult, and we will be there to help, but it is a bit tedious. You can name someone from out of town provided they can be here often enough to take care of gathering your “stuff,” paying your bills, and making distributions according to your Will.
- Guardians and Trustees for Your Children. If both parents were to die, who would you want to care for your children? This is where you get to have a say in that process so give that careful thought if you have minor children. Similarly, if you decide to delay distribution of cash until the children are older and more mature (generally a good idea), who would be a good choice as Trustee to handle the money and make sound financial decisions for the kids?
General Durable Power of Attorney
Agent for Financial Affairs. The Power of Attorney is primarily a business document where you name a person (or persons) to act for you in financial matters. Even if you don’t need one now, we like to have them signed and in the file just in case. The agent is usually your spouse or a trusted family member.
Living Will and Surrogate
Health Care Decisions. This is the perfect time to consider if you want to sign a living will identifying if you want extraordinary medical efforts at the end of your life. You are not required to sign one, but you owe it to your family to at least consider it. One variation of the Living Will is to name a Surrogate to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them yourself.
Life Insurance, IRAs, and Other Assets
Death Beneficiaries. Finally, you may own assets like life insurance or an IRA where you have named a beneficiary to receive the proceeds on your death. That happens outside your Will and could be contrary to what you want to do in your Will. Identify any such asset and who the current beneficiary is; we will discuss it in more detail to insure that it is consistent with the rest of your estate plan.
Bring with you any current wills, powers of attorney, or other documents.