PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE WITH ESTATE PLANNING
WRITTEN BY MARESA GIOVANNINI
You know you should have a proper will drawn up, and you hope that the people you are closest with have made their own arrangements. But who really wants to spend the time, money, and energy thinking about end of life for themselves and their loved ones? It’s probably not on the top of your list for ways to spend a free weekend; however, anything you can do in advance will save everyone a lot of (extra) heartache in the long run. Always consult a lawyer for legal advice; in the meantime, we’ve gathered some basics about planning for the future, starting today.
What Is Estate Planning?
Estate planning, the preparation of documents to assign inheritances and responsibilities due to death or incapacitation, is an often emotional yet necessary process. You might think a signed will should suffice, but depending on how many beneficiaries and assets you have, the business of it all can be quite complicated.
Estate planning documents are designed to protect and support individuals and families in a multitude of ways. While it feels like there will always be time to get paperwork completed, you’ll want to sign on the dotted line when you have all your mental faculties and aren’t experiencing any medical conditions that compromise decision-making abilities. If you are able to, plan early and make updates when necessary.
What Do I Need?
If you do nothing else, prepare a will. Without one, you hand power of your assets to the courts and they determine how to divvy everything among your heirs, keeping it tied up in probate for longer than it might be otherwise. Adding a trust makes most sense when you have property and other assets that reach a certain value or if just want to create more flexibility and ease for your family. Beyond those basics, consider an advance health care (medical) directive and power of attorney.
You can include plenty of requests and information in your formal package of documents. Among those, consider your preference for any organ donation, memorial services, burial or cremation desires, obituary placement, or charity contributions. Consider arranging and paying for placement at a cemetery in advance. You can outline many of these conversations in your will. In addition to explaining what you want, think about what your family will need. Compile a document with account numbers, log-ins, and passwords for your household and any casual online accounts you hold such as Facebook or Instagram. (Even if you don’t include this with your legal documents, you might arrange and share the location of it with a trusted loved one.)
Where Do I Find Help?
Ready to dip your toe in but not yet ready to put things in writing? A quick online search for an estate planning checklist can help you get things sorted before visiting an attorney for the next steps.
There are many things in life you can DIY with little risk; estate planning isn’t likely one of them. The American Bar Association (understandably and smartly) cautions against using free online forms as the language may be inadmissible in your state courts, improperly executed, or void if not witnessed. (All risk that can be mitigated.) So, work with a lawyer who specializes in estate planning and let them do the heavy lifting. Gather recommendations from friends and family, consult financial advisors, or turn to your local bar association for guidance.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.