The main idea behind estate planning is ensuring that the distribution of assets and after-death wishes of an individual are executed the way they envision. If you’re unsure as to whether or not you need to think about estate planning for yourself or a loved one, then read on for some pointed advice from our experienced estate planning lawyers.
Breaking Through the Assumptions of Your End of Life Plan
You have an end of life plan, right? If your parents are still alive, then surely they have an end of life plan? Do you know what it is? Is it in writing?
Questions like this get uncomfortable quite quickly, especially if, like most Americans, your family’s estate plan isn’t a well-known piece of information. This may have worked out just fine until now, but everything can change in an instant; the only question you should really ask yourself (or of your parents) is this: How much do you want those left behind to worry about these questions if you’re not around?
If the answer is “as little as possible,” then read on to learn the basics of estate planning, why it is important, and how the assumptions you may have about the end of life process works without a clear, legally-binding estate plan.
Leaving Someone at the Helm
The most common misconception about estate planning surrounds the distribution of power after a loss. This comes as a surprise to most people, as most people believe that the distribution of assets is typically the largest sticking point, but that is not at all the case. In reality, leaving the power of decision making and distribution of those assets is typically the least considered, yet most important, decision that you can make.
For instance, if you’re a middle-aged divorcee, do your children transfer to your parents or your ex? What about your house and other assets? Could one of your children be old enough to take over this role themselves and, if so, is there any indication that this would be in accordance to your wishes? In this one simple example we see numerous unanswered questions left by an indistinct power vacuum that exists in your absence. The entire point of estate planning is to minimize or, better still, entirely remove that power vacuum, leaving your wishes clear and your friends and family liberated from these divisive decisions.
Importance of an Asset Inventory
How often do you talk about your investments with your family and good friends? Do you think that if you were gone this afternoon that your friends and family would even know what you own, where it is, and how to manage any necessary payments or withdraw any principles? You’d be surprised how vital a simple outline of your assets can be to make the transition to life without you easier. Imagine, for a moment, if you had to figure out how to pay the water bill online without knowing the username or password, navigate cashing out your 401(k), and handle the end of life ceremonies at the same time, then multiply that effort by every single payment and account in your possession. Worse still, if your precious documents are protected by a safe deposit that only yourself and your spouse know exists, then how could your family possibly find those precious resources if something were to happen to you both? Part of your estate plan is to outline the presence of these things and provide the means for account access and recovery in a secure location; any of the estate planning lawyers at our firm can help you with this crucial stage.
Removing Inheritance Issues Before They Begin
The most appealing reason for many people to consider an estate plan is simply to make the wishes for their assets known to those they’re leaving behind. Whether for yourself or for a parent, the will portion of an end of life plan keeps everyone clear on how assets should be divided, and leaves them without the burden of sifting through your things to work things out themselves. After all, most families are not centrally located or blessed with the free time that it would take to make these decisions for you. Perhaps most important, it removes the well-intending, but highly divisive, rhetoric that begins when your loved ones start saying “I know it’s what he/she would want.” Once things reach this point, everyone you’ve ever known is going to have a different idea as to what your intentions are – and all of them are basically guessing without a clear estate plan.
Not Just for the Elderly
Once you have assets, you should have an estate plan. If you’ve acquired a home, a car, or even a dog with another person, whether married or not, you should have an estate plan. Those with children absolutely need an estate plan, regardless of their age. In any and all of these situations, and thousands more, age is not a discriminating factor in an estate plan. Admittedly, in your younger years, your estate plan can be much more simplified; as a rule of thumb: The more at-risk someone is for passing away, the more thorough and up-to-date their estate plan should be. Still, younger people that pass away without any sort of plan create some of the most tragic and divisive situations for a family that is already distraught by their loss.
For instance, you may assume that the home you purchased with a boyfriend or girlfriend will naturally be left to them, but that is certainly not always the case. Whether you’re making an estate plan to outline what will happen to your pet or the few meager possessions you have, that is better than leaving no clue as to what you would want should anything ever happen to you.
The Ultimate “Better Safe Than Sorry”
Reach out to our estate planning lawyers for assistance with your end of life plan, regardless of the likelihood that you’ll need it. After all, it is much better to create a simple document that outlines what you own, who it needs to be left to, and what you would want to see happen after you’re gone and never need it than it would be to pass away without ever expressing those desires or even putting thought to it. Remove this terrible burden from your family by reaching out to our experienced estate planning lawyers. Together, we’ll draft a document that outlines your wishes in a legally-binding manner, leaving your family and friends free from worry in a time of grief.