Building for the Future, Enjoying the Present
In the law, there is this saying that relates to wills and trusts: “It is not as important to get it right as it is to get it written.”
The goal of estate planning is to have a plan in place that clearly identifies how your affairs are to be handled in case of death or incapacity.
Often people will not deal with their estate planning needs because they believe their lives will be changing in the months or years ahead. Unfortunately, sometimes tragedy occurs and people do not get the time to complete their vision, leaving their families and businesses in disarray with an unexpected death or disability.
Your estate plan should be structured as though you were going to die or become incapacitated tomorrow—or any day thereafter. You can always “fix it” later.
The estate plan requires legal documents, usually wills and trusts, to become effective. If your attorney does not specialize in this kind of work, you should ask him or her for a referral to someone who is a specialist. State and federal laws change more frequently than we would like, and it is important that the advice and documents you receive are the best possible legal advice available. We have seen several cases where defective wills and trusts have caused catastrophic problems for surviving family members.
If you have minor children, or family members of any age with special needs, it is critical that you have a plan in place. Guardians should be named in your wills, and occasionally there might be a reason to name a trustee to manage financial assets who is different from the guardian.
For those with adult children or no children, the challenge is to be certain your assets will be distributed:
a) To those you want
b) When you want
c) In the way you want
Care needs to be given that your loved ones benefit from their inheritance, and will not be ruined by it.
A plan of distribution spread over several years can give heirs an opportunity to learn how to manage money and cope with the unexpected stresses that follow a death and inheritance. When there are enough assets so that estate could be subject to “death taxes,” it is even more important that a specialist be used.
Other issues that complicate probate or the distribution of assets after death are the ownership of real estate in a state that is not your residence, when significant dollars are held inside IRA or retirement plan accounts, the existence of large life insurance policies, and when there is a desire to dedicate money to charities without short-changing your family.
Estate planning is your last opportunity to have an influence on those you leave behind. Be sure to treat it with great care.