By Lisa Paine
In times like these, many are turning their thoughts to the possibility of contracting COVID-19 and what that could mean for themselves and their families. However, when the term “estate planning” comes to mind, it’s common to think “My wishes are simple, I can just jot down what I need…” or “I know someone who said they used a will template off the Internet and it was great.”
If you relate to these thoughts, you are not alone. There’s just one thing. That kind of thinking is risky.
You actually don’t have to own a mansion on the hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean to have an estate. An estate is simply a term to describe everything you own – your money, property, and personal belongings are all part of your estate. An Estate Plan helps you determine what will happen to these things once you are no longer able. However, a complete Estate Plan goes far beyond dispersion of your assets and belongings, and includes areas such as caring for your family, making health care decisions, avoiding probate and estate taxes, protecting your assets, and addressing specific concerns for distributions.
As you prepare for a meeting with a lawyer to get your affairs in order, there are a few things to consider.
Family-related questions such as these may arise during a comprehensive estate planning meeting:
- Who will care for your minor children? Is there anyone you do not want caring for your children?
- Do you want the same person who is caring for your children in charge of your assets for your children or should you appoint a trustee?
- How can you make sure your youngest child is provided for in the same manner as your oldest?
- How can your special needs child or dependent be cared for?
When it comes to healthcare, the main questions you will need to answer are:
- Who should make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable?
- What types of healthcare interventions do you want?
For estate taxes and probate, these are the questions you should be prepare to address:
- How can you avoid or minimize your estate taxes?
- How can you avoid having your estate go through probate (the legal process that takes place after someone dies. This includes proving in court that a deceased person’s will is valid, identifying and inventorying the deceased person’s property, and distributing the remaining property as the will–or state law, if there’s no will—directs) which can be a time-consuming and costly process?
For asset protection, a few considerations are:
- What is the best way to ensure that your property doesn’t fall into the hands of creditors?
- Is there a way to distribute assets to your beneficiaries over time instead of handing over a lump sum?
- Who will manage your finances if you are unable?
- Who will manage your small or family-owned business?
And finally, to make sure all distribution concerns are covered, you will be asked these questions:
- What are some different options for splitting your estate among your beneficiaries?
- How can you take care of your spouse, but ensure that money also goes to your children?
Sitting down with a qualified estate planning attorney can help you answer these important questions and many more. In order to ensure full protection of your estate for your loved ones and yourself, you do not want to depend on a fill-in-the-blank template. Instead, you want to meet with someone who knows key questions to ask to ensure your plan provides you and your loved ones with the comfort and peace of mind that comes with knowing you have your affairs in order.
Lisa Paine is an estate planning attorney at the Phoenix law firm of Jaburg Wilk. She assists clients with estate planning, probate, trust administration and business formation. She can be reached at email@example.com.