Estate Planning Checklist

Dying without an estate plan creates additional costs and eliminates any chance your wishes for loved ones will be followed after your death. Typically, people think about last wills when they marry or have children, and then do not think about last wills or estate plans until they retire. While a last will is important, there are other estate planning documents that are just as important, says the recent article “10 Steps to Writing a Will” from U.S. News & World Report.

Most assets, including retirement accounts and insurance policy proceeds, can be transferred to heirs outside of a will, if they have designated beneficiaries. However, the outcome of an estate may be more impacted by Power of Attorney for financial matters and Medical Power of Attorney documents.  To help figure out what you may need, you can use this article as an estate planning checklist.

Here are ten specific tasks that need to be completed for your last will to be effective. Remember, if the will does not comply with your state’s estate law, it can be declared invalid.

  1. Find an estate planning attorney who is experienced with the laws of your state.
  2. Select beneficiaries for your last will.
  3. Check beneficiaries on non-probate assets to make sure they are current.
  4. Decide who will be the executor of your last will.
  5. Name a guardian for minor children, if yours are still young.
  6. Make a letter describing possessions and who you want to receive them. Be very specific.

There are also tasks for your own care while you are living, in case of incapacity:

  1. Name a person for the Power of Attorney role. They will be your representative for legal and financial matters, but only while you are living.
  2. Name a person for the Medical Power of Attorney to make decisions on your behalf, if you cannot.
  3. Create an Advance Directive, also known as a Living Will, to explain your wishes for medical care, particularly concerning end-of-life care.
  4. Discuss these roles and their responsibilities with the people you have chosen, and make sure they are willing to serve.

Be realistic about the people you are naming to receive your property. If you have a child who is not good with managing money, a trust can be set up to distribute assets according to your wishes: by age or accomplishments, like finishing college, going to rehab, or maintaining a steady work history.

Do not forget to tell family members where they can find your last will and other estate documents. You should also talk with them about your digital assets. If accounts are protected by passwords or facial recognition, find out if the digital platform has a process for your executor to legally obtain access to your digital assets.

Finally, do not neglect updating your estate plan every three to four years or anytime you have a major life event. An estate plan is like a house: it needs regular maintenance. Old estate plans can disinherit family members or lead to the wrong person being in charge of your estate. An experienced estate planning attorney will make the process easier and straightforward for you and your loved ones.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (May 13, 2021) “10 Steps to Writing a Will”

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Is it Better to Give or let Kids Inherit?

Should an inheritance remain an inheritance, given to children only after their parents die, or should parents use some of the money to help their kids out while they are still living? That’s a question that many families grapple with, reports a recent article “When to Give Inheritance Money to Your Kids,” from The Wall Street Journal.

Not every family can afford to give their children an advance on their inheritance, but for those who can, there are some things to consider:

Some financial advisors believe that “gifting with warm hands” is a better way to go. Parents can enjoy seeing their children and grandchildren benefit from having the help, based on when it is needed. Decoupling an inheritance from parental death is a happier scenario than the alternative.

Others believe that current financial needs, taxes and the tax situations of the parents and children ought to be the deciding factor. First, is there enough money for the parents to live comfortably in retirement? That includes being prepared for the cost of an unexpected health crisis that might lead them to need short- and long-term care. Follow that by understanding the tax situation of both parents and heirs. Once those answers are fully formed, then a discussion about gifting can move forward.

Another school of thought is to stop saving every penny and enjoy life to its fullest right here, right now. Some people are more concerned with maxing out their 401(k) plans than enjoying their lives. A healthy balance between protecting assets for later years, creating wealth for the next generation and having some fun too is the goal for many families.

Regardless of how you see your situation, one thing is sure: if you have any concerns about how your children will handle an inheritance, make a gift while you are living. You’ll get to see how they handle it, responsibility or recklessly. This may inform your planning for the future, including the use of spendthrift trusts.

The pandemic has forced many people to confront their own mortality and consider how they really want to spend the rest of their lives, as well as their assets. Many parents are preparing to make changes in their estate and gifting plans to accommodate needs that have arisen as a result of COVID’s economic impact.

Talk with your children about finances—yours and theirs. Discuss their needs, especially if they have been unemployed for an extended period of time. If they need money for something critical, like paying for health insurance or catching up on student loans, the gift should be made with a clear understanding of its intended purpose.

Your estate planning attorney can help create a plan that works while you are living and after you have passed. You can also see my thoughts on how to leave to your kids in a way that protects them here.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/protecting-money-from-a-childs-divorce/

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (April 30, 2021) “When to Give Inheritance Money to Your Kids”

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What Is a POD Account?

Also called a “POD” account, a payable on death account can be created at a bank or credit union and is transferable without probate at your death to the person you name.  We frequently utilize these types of accounts as part of a larger, comprehensive estate plan.  So, I wanted to provide some information about what these accounts are and how to use them.

Sports Grind Entertainment’s recent article entitled “Payable on Death (POD) Accounts” explains that there are different reasons for including a payable on death account in your estate plan. You should know how they work and very critically, how it works with your greater estate plan, when deciding whether to create one. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney who can help you coordinate your investment goals with your end-of-life wishes.

The difference between a traditional bank account and a POD account is that a POD account has a designated beneficiary. This person is someone you want to receive any assets held in the account when you die. A POD account is really any bank account that has a named beneficiary.

There are several benefits with POD accounts to transfer assets. Assets that are passed to someone else through a POD account are not subject to probate. This is an advantage if you want to make certain your beneficiary can access cash quickly after you die. Even if you have a will and a life insurance policy in place, those do not necessarily guarantee a quick payout to handle things like burial or funeral expenses or any outstanding debts that need to be paid. A POD account could help with these expenses.

Know that POD account beneficiaries cannot access any of the money in the account while you are alive. That could be an issue if you become incapacitated, and your loved ones need money to help pay for medical care. In that situation, having assets in a trust or a jointly owned bank account could be an advantage. You should also ask your estate planning attorney about a financial power of attorney, which would allow you to designate an agent to pay bills and the like in your place.

We often utilize POD account designations so that bank accounts can be transferred to a trust upon death.  This is provides for bank accounts to avoid probate on an account while still directing the assets to a trust which spells out your wishes for your assets.  This avoids the need to close and open new accounts in many situations.

One thing I would stress however, is that many people suggest POD accounts as a way to avoid probate so that an estate plan is not necessary.  Without elaborating, every case in which I’ve ever encountered this has been a disaster.  A POD account is not an estate plan substitute, it is a tool in the tool box.

Similarly, bankers often suggest these accounts to clients as a probate avoidance tool.  That has it’s merits of course, but what if you are using a will-based estate plan?  If so, adding beneficiaries actually removes these accounts from your estate plan, and often creates problems for the executor or beneficiaries.

If you are interested in creating a payable on death account, the first step is to review your estate plan and talk to your estate planning attorney about the effect such an account will have on your assets.

Reference: Sports Grind Entertainment (May 2, 2021) “Payable on Death (POD) Accounts”

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