While nobody wants to think about death or disability, establishing an estate plan is one of the most important steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones. Proper estate planning not only puts you in charge of your finances, it can also spare your loved ones of the expense, delay and frustration associated with managing your affairs when you pass away or become disabled.
Providing for Incapacity
If you become incapacitated, you will not be able to manage your own financial affairs. Many are under the impression that one’s spouse or adult children can automatically take over for them if they become incapacitated. The truth is that without the proper legal response team documents, in order for others to be able to manage your finances, they must petition a court to declare you legally incompetent. This process can be lengthy, costly and stressful. Even if the court appoints the person you would have chosen, the individual may have to come back to the court every year and show how he or she is spending and investing each and every penny.
If you want your family to be able to immediately take over for you, it’s essential that you work with an attorney to create the proper response team documents to designate a person, or persons, that you trust so they will have the authority to manage your financial affairs.
In addition to planning for the financial aspect of your affairs during incapacity, it’s critical that you establish a plan for your medical care. The law allows you to appoint someone you trust - for example, a family member or close friend to make decisions on your behalf about medical treatment options if you lose the ability to decide for yourself. You can do this by using a durable power of attorney for health care where you designate the person to make such decisions on your behalf.
The Use of Trust in Lifetime Planning
Trusts play an important role in many lifetime plans. It can help to avoid probate, ensure privacy and ease of estate administration. Trust law permits broad latitude to the creator of the trust to specify how the assets will be used. A Trust can be created during your lifetime (known as a living trust) or at your death through a Will ( a testamentary trust). Trusts can be revocable, or irrevocable during one's lifetime. There are also different types of trust which can make designations to or protect the assets of someone with special needs.
What Can a Trust Do?
A Trust Can:
- Provide financial management for your own assets and a mean to pay bills, etc., even if you become incapacitated.
- Set aside assets for a spouse's needs while maximizing risk to home and assets from long term care costs;
- Provide a caretaker of funds for a child or an incapacitated adult to be used as you direct;
- Preserve an asset (such as you house) for your own living need, while helping to ensure that it will pass to persons of your choice;
- Pass property at death without probate proceedings.
- Provide oversight of inherited funds for a beneficiary who is not a good money manager.
Providing for Minor Children/ Grandchildren
Another issue to consider during the planning process is whether you’d like your beneficiaries to receive your assets directly, or to have the assets placed in trust and distributed subject to conditions and circumstances such as age, need and even incentives based on behavior and education. All too often, children receive substantial assets before they are mature enough to handle them in a prudent manner.
Charitable Bequests – Planned Giving
Do you want to benefit a charitable organization or cause? Your estate plan can provide support for such organizations in a variety of ways, either during your lifetime or at your death.
Ultimately, a well thought out estate plan should provide for your loved ones in an effective and efficient manner by avoiding guardianship during your lifetime, probate at death, and unnecessary delays. You can contact one of our qualified estate planning attorneys to review your family and financial situation, your goals and explain the various options available to you. Once your estate plan is in place, you will have peace of mind knowing that you have provided for yourself and your family.