17th Dec 2012
You prepare an estate plan more for your loved ones than for yourself. With a well-prepared estate plan, you ensure the orderly settlement of your estate to your loved ones in the event of your demise. Despite all the legal terms, an estate plan can be simplified when you remember these six points:
First, estate planning should always be done in partnership with your attorney. His expertise can help your heirs minimize estate tax payments as well as simplify the process of settling your estate. Likewise, you shouldn’t amend your estate plan without consulting your attorney. Consider your plan as a totality. Changing one provision can affect other areas of your estate plan which may have implications you did not foresee.
Second, estate planning is a continuous activity. You have to periodically make amendments in your will to reflect changes in your life such as your marital status, birth or death of a family member or a substantial change in the appraisal of your assets. Along with updating your will or trust, you should also keep your beneficiary designations up-to-date. And when you make amendments, be sure you have notified the concerned parties.
Third, consider this as an investment for your loved ones. Many people defer preparing an estate plan for financial reasons. While you do have to shell out money upfront when you plan your estate, please realize that your will is an investment for your family. Whatever money you spend initially will certainly be offset with cash savings in terms of estate taxes to be paid.
Fourth, a good plan provides a legal blueprint for your children to act appropriately. You may have a very cohesive family during your lifetime, but the lure of money and items of special value can create conflicts. A well executed will or trust can prevent such conflicts.
Fifth, realize that your spouse may not be able to handle your estate when the time comes. Your spouse may also be incapacitated at the time of your demise. You must then prepare for such a contingency and your estate plan must take this into consideration. You must likewise designate an alternative for your appointed agent, since your primary agent may die or be incapacitated at the time of your demise. Doing so ensures that you have someone acting in your behalf – no matter what happens.
Sixth, when it comes to appointing an agent, try to spread out the decision-making authority. This is especially true when appointing agents to be granted authority for financial and healthcare matters. If only one person has the authority for both, he may wield undue influence over your estate.
One thing is clear with the six points above: You prepare an estate plan because you do not know when you may die or be incapacitated. But, you also do not know when your spouse, loved ones or appointed agents may die or be incapacitated. The key is for you to be prepared for all possibilities. Make sure you contact an estate planning lawyer as soon as possible to put your matters in place.