ESTATE PLANNING – TAKING THE BASIC FIRST STEPS
Stop procrastinating, I know no one likes to talk about estate planning, but it certainly doesn’t have to be a scary process that you keep putting off until tomorrow. If you do absolutely nothing else, please take at the very least these basic steps:
GET THE BASIC DOCUMENTS IN PLACE
At a minimum, everyone should have a Last Will and Testament, a Durable Power of Attorney and a Living Will. A Will allows you to specify who gets what after you are gone and who will be in charge of seeing to it that your wishes are carried out. It’s an especially critical document for parents with young children so that they are able to specify who the guardians and trustees for their children will be and also to control at what ages the children would actually be entitled to receive their inheritance.
A Durable Power of Attorney comes into play in the event that you should suffer some type of potential long term disability or incapacity such as a stroke, Alzheimer’s or dementia. That document allows you to appoint one or more individuals as your primary and backup agents who would be able to step into your shoes and act on your behalf in the event of your incapacity. Don’t think for a minute that because you are married that your spouse can automatically assume such a role because they cannot. This is an extremely important document because it prevents the need for someone to have to petition the court to become your legal guardian which is a much more time consuming, inconvenient and expensive process.
Finally, a Living Will (a/k/a Advance Directive or Healthcare Power of Attorney) is also a very important and simple document to put in place. The Living Will addresses what your end-of-life wishes are and allows you to again appoint agents who would carry them out in the event that you become unable to do so on your own. Two classic examples of individuals who did not have Living Wills are Karen Ann Quinlan and Terri Schiavo. In both of those well known cases their respective spouses were fighting with their in-laws for literally years about whether or not their wives should be kept on life support. Reducing your end-of-life wishes can take a tremendous burden off of your loved ones during an emotional and difficult time.
Two other simple steps you can take to cover the basics of estate planning are checking to confirm that you have properly designated your intended beneficiaries on your life insurance, retirement plans and other types of investment accounts. You’d be amazed how often mistakes are made with respect to proper beneficiary designations. You may think you have designated all three of your children as beneficiaries only to find out later that a mistake was made and only one of the children was in fact listed. I always advise me clients to seek written confirmation from the company managing the insurance or retirement account that the beneficiaries designations have been properly reflected pursuant to your wishes. A final thing to give some consideration to is whether or not a revocable living trust might be a good fit for your family’s particular estate planning needs. These trusts typically have three advantages over more traditional estate planning: they can help you avoid probate and thus prevent often lengthy delays in the distribution of your estate; avoiding probate may also be advantageous in terms of the costs and expenses that your family would otherwise incur; and these trust also keep the administration of your estate private which may be an important consideration to you. Revocable trust aren’t for everyone by any means, but they can certainly play an important role in estate planning depending on your family’s particular circumstances and needs.
Whatever steps you decide to take, make sure that you work with a qualified estate-planning lawyer. Laws vary dramatically from state to state and these matters are far too important to your family to trust them to some type of online or do-it-yourself, fill-in-the-blanks type of estate planning service. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find out that you can get these basic documents in place for your family, using an experienced attorney, at far less cost than you might expect. If you’d like to learn more about the type of estate planning services that we provide give us a call today to schedule your free legal consultation or visit us online at www.americanwillsandestates.com.
Lloyd A. Welling, Esq.
American Wills & Estates
2100 Wharton Street, Suite 302
Pittsburgh, PA 15203