Estate planning is an important area of practice for our law firm, and we are committed to helping individuals and families with these issues.
Why do estate planning? Because it’s important. It’s smart. It will help preserve your assets, wealth and privacy. At a difficult time, it will help your loved ones. It will also give you peace of mind. And, of course, the best time to do it is right now. In other words, there are many good reasons.
Whether a person’s death was anticipated or happened unexpectedly, the time surrounding such an event is full of emotions and immediate decisions that must be made. It’s a surprisingly busy time. Along with all the food, flowers and kind words, family and friends also offer advice about what should happen to the kids, the house, the business, or the family cabin. While the advice may be well-intentioned, it’s often misguided and may not be what Dad or Aunt Sally or Cousin Anne wanted. It may not be what you wanted.
Unfortunately, death isn’t the only life-altering event that can leave important issues to be decided, and a person’s incapacity may leave those same issues for others to decide. A car accident; a stroke; a fall from a ladder. These events can occur at any time in our lives, suddenly, and when we are not prepared for them. During the time a person is recovering, bills must be paid, businesses managed, children cared for, and more.
We may think of an estate plan as simply a way to decide ‘who gets what’ when we die, but it’s something more than that. Think of your estate plan as a detailed set of instructions for your family to follow when you die or become seriously ill. An estate plan outlines what will happen to your assets, your business, your cherished items. It also names the person or persons you want to oversee the distribution of your assets and carrying out of your instructions. You can provide for how your spouse and children will be taken care of in the event you are unable to, and you can include your preferences on end-of-life medical treatment and care. For your wishes to be enforceable they need to be in writing and properly executed. Unfortunately, just telling everyone what you want doesn’t work.
A well-crafted estate plan should simplify and streamline the distribution of your assets; keep the process private; avoid court intervention, and reduce taxes and costs to the extent possible. Your estate plan should also be a reflection of your wishes, decisions, and values. It should place your loved ones in the best position possible to handle your affairs at the time of your death or at the time of an unexpected accident or illness. Most importantly, perhaps, it should help reduce stress and complications for your loved ones at a difficult, emotional time for them.
So, why is now a good time to complete your estate plan? Estate planning is a good idea at all stages of life. For the 18-year-old heading to college, a health care directive would be very useful to have in place for an unexpected trip to the ER. A young couple with children can provide for the care and protection of their children in their estate plan. If you own a business or hold interests in property and other assets, you can authorize someone to act on your behalf in the event you are not able to. Grandparents can provide funds for education for their grandchildren, and those facing long-term care needs can put themselves in the best position to pay for that care while preserving assets.
If you already have an estate plan, it may be a good time to review it with an attorney to make sure it still fits your situation and accomplishes your intentions. Major life events such as marriage, divorce, birth, death, a change in financial circumstances, and developments in state and federal laws all have an impact on an estate plan. For all of these reasons, right now is the best time to put your estate plan in place or update your current plan.
Please send any request for topic suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Although we cannot give you legal advice through the column, we can provide some general information that may be helpful for you to know. Our purpose is to educate and we hope that you can take something new away from this column each time you read it.