Building Your Plan
When developing your estate plan it's important to define your goals and objectives and decide what's important to you:
- Do you need to provide for a spouse or minor children?
- Would you like to help grandchildren pay for their college education?
- Are you concerned about a potential estate tax liability?
Objectives will differ from person to person and it's important to write them down so you can clearly communicate them to your advisors and your family.
The Important 5
Let's walk through the estate planning process by first identifying the five basic documents to consider as part of your estate plan. These documents could address such issues as taking care of yourself during your lifetime and providing for efficient transfer of estate assets upon death.
The first document is the Financial Durable Power Of Attorney. This allows each person to name someone to take care of his or her financial affairs if he or she becomes disabled or incapacitated.
Next, is the Health Care Power Of Attorney. This is a way to name someone to make day-to-day health care decisions for you if you're unable to do so. Living Wills direct the withholding or withdrawal of life prolonging procedures in certain situations. Other names for the Health Care Powers Of Attorney and Living Wills are Healthcare Directives or Healthcare Proxies.
Next, you may want to use a Revocable Living Trust to provide for ongoing management of your assets if you become incapacitated.
A revocable living trust is a flexible estate planning document. You retain control during your lifetime. In the event of illness or disability, the trust would provide for the ongoing management of assets on your behalf. At death, it would allow you to determine the ultimate distribution of your assets. And, just as its name states, you could amend or revoke this trust if your goals and objectives change in the future. This document could also contain estate tax saving provisions.
A revocable living trust is flexible enough to handle many different financial management issues. For example, a "successor trustee" could step in if needed because of a long-term disability or a temporary illness. Or, you could voluntarily delegate responsibility if you wanted to travel or simply wanted someone else to handle financial chores.
A revocable trust avoids the probate process and protects your family's privacy. While the cost of probate varies from state to state, it usually requires additional formalities. Also, court files may be publicly available. So, while revocable trusts are not used in all states, they are widely accepted as a way to streamline the process of managing and transferring assets.
Your estate planning attorney will help you determine if a revocable trust is appropriate for your situation.
And lastly, the WILL is an important estate planning document. Depending on your state of residency and the size of your estate, the will may be your primary dispositive document. In the states where Revocable Living Trusts are used, the Will becomes an important companion document to the revocable trust and is called a Pour Over Will. The Pour Over Will directs the non-trust assets to be transferred to the trust upon death.
Well, there you have it – your Five Important Estate Planning Documents.