Estate planning is a topic that can easily end up on the back burner. It is easy to say “I’ll get to it next month” and the next thing you know, a year or more has passed.
Life can change in an instant for good or bad. Not having an estate plan can result in putting loved ones in a difficult situation as they try to figure out what needs to be done on many different levels in the event of one’s death or incapacity.
The discussion of one’s estate plan can be viewed as a sensitive but necessary conversation. That being said, the discussion need not be intimidating. Everyone’s situation is unique. An estate plan may not need to be complicated.
Here are some items to consider discussing with an estate planning attorney:
(1) Last Will and Testament:
This document allows you to appoint an Executor and alternate Executors to handle your estate when you die. It also provides for you to name a guardian for minor children (although this provision may not apply if the other parent is still alive) and beneficiaries to receive assets that pass through your estate. A Last Will and Testament can also include testamentary trusts and other provisions.
What would happen if you passed away without a Last Will and Testament?
(2) Funeral and Burial Instructions.
Providing loved ones with a list of instructions pertaining to your funeral and burial arrangements along with a way for them to pay the costs can help loved ones have peace of mind during a very difficult time. This can also help your loved ones avoid any potential disagreements that they may have had with each other without your instruction.
What would happen if you passed away without funeral and burial instructions and your loved ones had disagreements about your funeral and burial arrangements?
(3) Power of Attorney.
This document allows you to appoint someone as your “Agent” or “Attorney-In-Fact” to conduct business on your behalf as specified in the document. The document may provide the person appointed with a general broad range of power or a limited specific range of power. This document may take effect immediately or upon your incapacitation (with “incapacitation” typically defined in the document).
What would happen if you were unable to handle your affairs while you were still alive?
(4) Living Will/Health Care Proxy
This document can provide for you to express what actions should be taken with regard to your health if you are no longer able to communicate. It may also provide for you to appoint a “Health Care Agent” to communicate on your behalf with regard to your desires for medical treatment if you are no longer able to express your wishes.
What would happen if you were unable to communicate and convey your health care decisions?
(5) Life Insurance Policies
Life insurance policies can provide for one or more beneficiaries to receive life insurance proceeds in the event of one’s death.
What life insurance policies exist and who are the designated beneficiaries?
(6) Assets with Beneficiary Designations
Assets such as retirement accounts may provide for one or more beneficiaries to be listed to receive the asset when the owner dies.
What assets with beneficiary designations exist and who are the designated beneficiaries?
(7) Legal Obligations that may Impact Your Estate Plan
Are there any divorce obligations or other legal obligations that may impact certain aspects of your estate plan?
(8) Financial Snapshot
Is there an updated spreadsheet or list of your financial information for purposes of helping an Attorney-In-Fact or Executor understand and handle your finances if needed?