Estate planning is not just about making a will, nor is it just for people who live in mansions. It is best described in the title of this article “Estate planning is an important strategy for arranging financial affairs and protecting heirs—here are five reasons why everyone needs an estate plan” from Business Insider. According to Beck & Lenox Estate Planning & Elder Law, why you need estate planning is to provide peace of mind for you and your loved ones.
There are a number of reasons for estate planning:
- Avoiding paying more federal and state taxes than necessary
- Ensuring that assets are distributed as you want
- Naming the people you choose for your own care, if you become incapacitated; and/or
- Naming the people you choose to care for your minor children, if you and your spouse left them orphaned.
If that sounds like a lot to accomplish, it is. However, with the help of a trusted estate planning attorney, it can be done and can allow you to sleep at night, knowing that everything was done to protect your estate and your loved ones.
If those decisions and designations are not made by you while you are alive and legally competent, the state law and the courts will determine who will get your assets, raise your children and how much your estate will pay in death taxes to state and federal governments. You can avoid that with an estate plan.
Here are the five key things as to why you need estate planning:
It’s more than a will. The estate plan includes creating Durable Powers of Attorney (POAs) to appoint individuals who will make medical and/or financial decisions, if you are not able to do so. Those POAs can incorporate Medical Directives to communicate your wishes about what kind of care you do or do not want, if you are so sick you cannot do so for yourself. The estate plan is where you can create Trusts to control how property passes from one person or one generation to the next.
Estate planning saves time, money, and angst. If you have a surviving spouse, they are usually the ones who serve as your executor. However, if you do not and if you do not have an estate plan, the court names a public administrator to distribute assets according to state law. While this is happening, no one can access your assets. There’s a lot of paperwork and a lot of legal fees. With a will, you name an executor who will take care of and gain access to most, if not all, of your assets and administer them according to your instructions.
Estate planning includes being sure that investment and retirement accounts with a beneficiary designation have been completed. If you don’t name a beneficiary, the asset goes through the probate court. If you fail to update your beneficiary designations, your ex or a person from your past may end up with your biggest assets.
Estate planning is also tax planning. While federal taxes only impact the very wealthy right now, that is likely to change in the future. States also have estate taxes and inheritance taxes of their own, at considerably lower exemption levels than federal taxes. If you wish your heirs to receive more of your money than the government, tax planning should be part of your estate plan.
The estate plan is also used to protect minor children. No one expects to die prematurely, and no one expects that two spouses with young children will die. However, it does happen, and if there is no will in place, then the court makes all the decisions: who will raise your children; where they will be raised; how their upbringing will be financed, and if there are no available family members, if the children should become wards of the state and enter the foster care system. That’s probably not what you want.
The estate plan includes the identification of the person(s) you want to raise your children, and who will be in charge of the assets left in trust for the children, like proceeds from a life insurance policy. This can be the same person, but often the financial and child-rearing roles are divided between two trustworthy people. Naming an alternate for each position is also a good idea, just in case the primary people cannot serve.
Estate planning, finally, also takes care of you while you are living, with a power of attorney and healthcare proxy. That way someone you know and trust can step in if you are unable to take care of your legal and financial affairs.
Once your plan is in place, remember that it is like your home: it needs to be updated every three or four years, or when there are big changes to tax law or in your life.
We hope this gives you ample reasons and provides the right motivation for addressing your legal needs, starting today. A call to an experienced estate planning firm like Beck & Lenox will begin the process of putting the pieces together and providing peace of mind for you.
Reference: Business Insider (Jan. 14, 2021) “Estate planning is an important strategy for arranging financial affairs and protecting heirs—here are five reasons why everyone needs an estate plan”