"Estate planning is an important and everlasting gift you can give your family. And setting up a smooth inheritance isn't as hard as you might think." – Suze Orman
Many people imagine estate planning to be simply the process of drafting a will or creating a trust. However, to ensure a smooth and secure transfer of your assets to your heirs, there is a lot more that you must include in your planning. In this article, we’ll run you through the checklist of estate planning essentials.
A will and trust are the core components of your estate plan. However, quite a few people tend to remain confused about the two. To clarify, a will is a legal document that testifies how a person’s asset will be distributed after their death and who may manage the property until its final distribution. A trust meanwhile is the transfer of the assets by the owner to another party (the trustee) for the benefit of a third party (beneficiary). Both a will and a trust are legal instruments not just to help ensure the inheritance process is as you intended, but also to maximize your time and money.
Designation of Beneficiaries
If you haven’t named your beneficiaries, or if the ones you named have passed away, then your assets would pass in accordance with state law. That’s right. You may not have an estate plan, but the state has an estate plan for you if you didn’t take the time to make your own. And guess what? They just might not distribute your assets to the people whom you would have wished to receive your assets. It may actually thwart your intentions.
Avoid giving your loved ones a legal headache after you pass away and ensure the legal transfer is to those who are the most deserving by clearly designating your beneficiaries in your estate plan and updating it when necessary.
With that said, caution should be taken in what is written to avoid complications after your death. For instance, if you have already intended your son as the beneficiary of an insurance policy, you shouldn’t include the name of your brother as well. Not taking care of such things can potentially lead to lengthy and bitter legal battles whenever there is a conflict of ownership between two parties. Beneficiary designations can be helpful or problematic. They can be particularly problematic when an ex-spouse is named, or when a deceased person is named, or when another person, such as a grown child, is added as a co-owner of an account.
Also, be careful of naming minor beneficiaries or those who may be special needs and receiving government assistance. Special care needs to be taken in regards to such beneficiaries.
You may choose to leave instructions to the executor, trustee, and/or beneficiaries on what you want done upon your death. Compared to a will, it is a far more personal. It can be used to state a lot of important aspects that you can’t do so in your will such as who is to receive certain household tangible personal property items such as jewelry or heirlooms, or what music to play at your funeral, or provide credentials to your online financial accounts, etc.
While these instructions or memorandums have little, if any, legal standing, they nonetheless can help people better understand your intention on how to handle certain personal aspects of your estate.
Durable Power of Attorney
While none of us want to experience such as situation, accidents can occur and health could fail, leaving us alive but unable to act. For such a scenario, drafting a durable power of attorney (POA) is vital to ensure that an agent is present who can legally act on your behalf when you are unable to do so yourself.
The document grants the assigned agent full power to make legal decisions, conduct transactions, and manage your asset as well as communicate your wishes as if they were you. A durable power of attorney can be revoked at any time and it terminates upon your death.
An agent can be most anyone – your spouse, sibling, relative, attorney, or trusted advisor. Generally, it is recommended to assign such a great responsibility to some who has the maturity and financial acumen to handle your assets well. They should be honest, trustworthy and in my opinion, someone who has handled their own financial affairs well. A minor cannot serve as an agent until they are the age of majority. These people have great authority and with that comes great responsibility. It’s not uncommon for agents to steal, so make sure your agent is trustworthy. I recommend someone who is mature, financially stable, wealthy and not under the influence of bad actors or greedy people.
Healthcare Power of Attorney
For decisions regarding healthcare, you should have a separate medical power of attorney. Be careful whom you choose as your agent for this purpose. Since the assigned agent will have your life in their hand (quite literally), choose someone who you can trust the most and who knows what decision you yourself would want to take regarding your life. Such people normally tend to be your spouse, parents, children, or siblings.
Because of the critical nature of healthcare decisions, it might also be helpful to identify a backup agent in case your first choice isn’t available or not in a capacity to act in time. When arranging for an Medical POA, be sure also check with your local state laws as many states differ in some way.
If you have minor children who are not of legal age to make their own decisions, picking a guardian can be an essential way to ensure they don’t suffer any further distress after your passing. Without a guardian designation, the court might place your children with a family member you wouldn’t have wanted to be selected. In extreme cases, where no eligible relative can be found, your children might become wards of the state.
Avoid such potential scenarios for your children by designating a guardian. Ideally, your selected person should be financially sound, share your views, and genuinely willing to take well care of your children after your passing. You can also consider your nominees geographical location, their political views, their religious views, their work ethic, etc. You get the point.
Estate planning isn’t just about deciding how your assets will be divided up after you die, it is about ensuring that the people you care the most about do not have additional suffering as they grieve their loss. It is about ensuring stability and security to your loved ones when you are no longer there to take care of them. Need legal advice on estate planning? Get in touch with our legal team by calling 888-407-2407. Our Texas Estate Planning Attorneys design estates without anxiety or procrastination. We offer 2 meetings, 3 day guaranteed document delivery, 4 your legacy and 5 star reviews.