Last year, multiple acquaintances passed away unexpectedly. It caused me to question if my estate plan was in order if (God forbid) something was to happen to me. That is why I jumped at the opportunity to conduct a Q & A with an estate planning attorney.
Although it’s not fun to think about this aspect of the future, we parents need to be prepared. To help make sure that your final wishes are carried out the way you want, read these answers by Mitch Mitchell, an estate planning attorney at Trust & Will.
Estate Planning Attorney Q&A
1. Who (i.e. at what age/life stage/income level) should one make an estate plan? Do you have an estimate of how many adults have an estate plan in place?
Everyone over the age of 18 should have a Will. Plain and simple. If you have any sort of savings, investments, property or dependents, you should absolutely take the time to create a Last Will and Testament. In the absence of a Will, assets will be distributed according to state laws and the courts. In the event you pass without a Will, typically, your spouse, children, parents or other close relatives will become the Beneficiaries of your estate.
2. Why is it so important – especially for parents – to have an estate plan?
Wills allow you to plan for what happens after death, ensuring that your family is protected and your assets are distributed how you choose. One of the biggest reasons why parents opt to make an estate plan is because of the ability to nominate a guardian for minor children.
3. What are the various documents that are essential for estate plans…
- Trust: A trust can be set up to provide for your dependents’ future needs, such as their education, healthcare, or general well-being. A dependent can play different roles in a trust: they could be appointed as the trustee, which means they would be responsible for managing the assets inside the trust and making sure that the assets are used to benefit the trust’s beneficiaries, or they could be a beneficiary of the trust, which means they would receive benefits from the trust, such as income or distributions.
- Last Will & Testament: Your final wishes for your possessions, dependents, and arrangements.
- Living Will: Specify your preferences for healthcare and medical treatment to be used as guidance if you are ever unable to make decisions.
- HIPAA Authorization: Authorizes trusted individuals to receive your protected health information for specified purposes.
- Power of Attorney: Assign someone, (an agent) to manage your personal, financial, and medical affairs if you are away or incapacitated.
Are they all needed? If not, which one(s) best meet the need for loved ones that are left behind? Is there anything else that should be included in the estate plan
Yes, all of these documents comprise a complete and comprehensive estate plan, ensuring that your decisions on healthcare, asset distribution, caregiving, and who you authorize to act on your behalf are documented and understood.
4. What are some questions that parents should ask during an estate planning session? (i.e. regarding assets – including those with special considerations, inheritances and estate taxes)
- Who do we want to look after our kids in case something were to happen to us? Who has a similar parenting style or lifestyle that wouldn’t further disrupt the massive change in our kids’ lives?
- What is the legacy we want to create for our family?
- How can we use a Trust to avoid the painful and expensive process of probate?
- Do any of our children require a Special Needs Trust to ensure they are able to still receive government or disability benefits without it being affected by an inheritance?
5. How can the various estate planning documents be easily completed – online or offline?
If you have an uncomplicated estate and want to set up a basic Will or Trust, using an online service like Trustandwill.com should cover all of your needs. However, if you own multiple properties or have sizeable assets or investments, it might be best to seek out an estate planning attorney in your city to help guide you through the process.
6. How often should a person update their estate plan to make sure it is what they currently want?
You should revisit your estate plan every 3-5 years to ensure everything is accurate and that your distribution plans or end-of-life wishes are still relevant. You should also update your estate plan after every major life event, such as giving birth, adopting, buying a home, moving to a new state or getting married or divorced.
7. Lastly, if there are any best first (or “next”) steps to make concerning creating or updating an estate plan, please share them.
Take inventory of your assets. Everything from your home to your personal items — and don’t forget about digital assets!
- Choose your Beneficiaries. Decide which items you want to distribute to which people.
- Select an Executor. Choose your person and notify them of your choice.
- Decide on who you will appoint as guardian if you have children. This step is only necessary if you have minor children or grandchildren.
- Be explicit. It’s important to be extremely specific about how your assets will be passed down so that your final wishes are carried out appropriately.
- Make your will online if you decide to forego the traditional attorney route. You have many options here, so it’s important to find someone trustworthy. Look for a partner who understands the nuances and complexities of Estate Planning. Trust & Will is built upon the foundation of an experienced, knowledgeable legal team. We also offer a 30-day satisfaction guarantee. And the biggest difference between Trust & Will and some of “those other guys”? We have an expert team, available to you, if you have questions or need help. Don’t believe us? Reach out today!! You’ll reach a real human being.
- Sign and notarize your Will. Two witnesses are required in most states, but there are some, such as Vermont, that require more.
- Put your Will in a safe place. A fireproof safe is the best option. Some people opt to use a safe deposit box at a bank, but there is a downside to this – it can be difficult to access safe deposit boxes after an owner dies.
- Make updates to your Will. This should happen periodically as needed but recommended to do so every 3 to 5 years or after important life events.
I hope that this Q&A with an estate planning attorney gives you the information that you need to make your family’s decisions about estate planning. Be sure to do your own research and make sure that you understand the legal implications of the documents you are signing.