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 a will when they marry or have children, and then do not think about wills or estate plans until they retire. While a 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.  To help identify those needs, I prepared an estate planning checklist which you can find below.

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 nine specific tasks that need to be completed for your estate plan to be effective. The documents should be prepared based upon your state’s law with the help of a qualified estate planning attorney.

  1. Find an estate planning attorney who is experienced with the laws of your state.
  2. Select beneficiaries for your estate plan.
  3. Check beneficiaries on non-probate assets to make sure they are current.
  4. Decide who will be the fiduciaries named in your estate plan (e.g. executor, trustee)
  5. Name a guardian for minor children, if yours are still young.

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 a Directive to Physicians (Living Will), to explain your wishes for medical care, particularly concerning end-of-life care.
  4. Tell the these people that you have chosen them and discuss these roles and their responsibilities with them if you are ready

As you go through your estate planning checklist, be realistic about the people you are naming to serve as fiduciaries. 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, and they should not be in charge of your money.

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.  See this article for my ideas as to when to update your estate plan and what to consider.  You might find reviewing the estate planning checklist helpful at that time as well.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/when-to-update-your-estate-plan/

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”

Continue ReadingEstate Planning Checklist

Estate Planning for Our Pets

A complete estate plan should address what happens to your pets when you are unable to care for them.
A complete estate plan should address what happens to your pets when you are unable to care for them.

Many people laugh when they hear about estate planning for pets. They think of outrageous stories of a dog or cat being left millions in a trust. But have you ever considered what would happen to your pets if you were not around to take care of them?

It’s easy to assume that someone will step in to care for your pets after you pass away, but the reality is, unless you have made arrangements ahead of time, your pet could be released onto the streets, dropped off at the shelter, neglected, or euthanized. In the best of circumstances, your pets might not get the special care they need if you have not left behind instructions regarding their special food, medications, and other details that would help someone care for your pet the way you would have.

The simplest way to make sure your pet will be cared for after you’re gone is to talk to one or two people to get their commitment to either take your pet into their home or find a good home for your pet. You can then include a short paragraph in your Will or living trust stating who should get custody of your pet. You can even leave the person who agrees to take your pet a small sum of money as a token of your appreciation.

If you are unable to find a person to agree to take your pet, there are organizations dedicated to the care of pets in exchange for a monetary gift to the institution. These organizations usually require that you make arrangements for the pet’s care during your lifetime. Your estate planning attorney should be able to give you more information regarding the organizations that offer these services.

Pet trusts are becoming more and more popular as a vehicle for providing the funds to care for pets after an owner’s death. If you want to leave money for the care of your pets after you are gone, a pet trust will make sure that the funds are spent on your pet and not used for other purposes.

You also need to consider what happens if you are alive, but unable to care for your pet due to a disability or incapacity. That’s why you should include provisions in your power of attorney allowing your agent to make arrangements for the care of your pet when you’re unable to do so, yourself. Your power of attorney should also allow your agent to expend funds for the care of your pets.

In any event, you should compile a set of instructions for your pet’s caretaker to follow. If your pet needs to be fed a certain type of food at precise times of day, prefers a special toy, has a specific bedtime or needs to be walked three times a day in a specific park near your home, you can include all this information in the instructions.

Many of us consider our pets as are part of our families. As such they need to be included in our estate plan, along with everything else we treasure.

Reference: The Harvard Press (May 14, 2020) “COA speakers urge pet owners to plan for their animal’s future”

 

Continue ReadingEstate Planning for Our Pets

Your Children Want You to Have an Estate Plan

Clients often forget that a solid estate plan makes things much easier for their kids. Even the kids want you to have an estate plan!

Many clients delay creating an estate plan.  People don’t want to think about scenarios where they are deceased or incapacitated, and some people delay because they are afraid of costs.  Clients often think of the impact of estate planning on themselves, forgetting that their children want them to have an estate plan too.

After all, it is the adult children who are in charge of aging parents when they need long term care. They are also the ones who settle estates when parents die. Even if they can’t always come out and tell you, the recent article, “Why your children wish you had an Elder Law Estate Plan” from the Times Herald-Record spells out exactly why an elder law estate plan is so important for your loved ones.

Avoid court proceedings while living. In a perfect world, everyone over age 18 will have a financial power of attorney, a medical power of attorney and a living will, as well as other estate planning documents to facilitate their use.  These documents appoint others to make financial, legal, and medical decisions, in case of incapacity. Without them, the children will have to get involved with time-consuming, expensive guardianship proceedings, where a judge appoints a legal guardian to make these decisions. Your life is turned over to a court-appointed guardian, instead of your children or another person of your choosing.  This is an expensive and invasive process.

Avoid court proceedings after you die. If you die and you own assets in your own name that do not pass by contract, you will likely go through the probate process, a court proceeding that can be time consuming and costly. Not having any assets in trusts leaves your kids open to out of pocket costs, time, work and difficulty in gathering assets.

Wills in probate court are public documents. Trusts are private documents. Utilizing trusts can keep the details of your estate out of the public eye.

An elder law estate plan also plans for the possibility of long term care and costs. Nursing home care costs can be extreme, and many clients don’t plan for such a creditor during their life time. If you don’t have long term care insurance, you should consider an estate plan that facilitates long term care government benefits, such as a revocable trust plan.

The “elder law power of attorney” has unlimited gifting powers that could save about half of a single person’s assets from the cost of nursing homes. This can be done on the eve of needing nursing home care, but it is always better to do this planning in advance.  This is one of the main roadblocks to Medicaid planning later in life.  Client’s don’t update their powers of attorney and limited their gifting options.

Having a plan in place decreases stress and anxiety for adult children. They are likely busy with their own lives, working, caring for their children and coping in a challenging world. When a plan is in place, they don’t have to start learning about Medicaid law, navigating their way through the court system, or wondering why their parents did not take advantage of the time they had to plan properly.

You probably don’t want your children remembering you as the parents who left a financial and legal mess behind for the them to clean up. Speak with an elder law estate planning attorney to create a plan for your future. Your children will appreciate it.

And kids, see here for speaking with your parents about estate planning.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/probate-lawyers-say-talk-to-your-parents-about-estate-planning/

Reference: Times Herald-Record (May 23, 2020) “Why your children wish you had an Elder Law Estate Plan”

Continue ReadingYour Children Want You to Have an Estate Plan