As I write this article, it is currently National Estate Planning Awareness Week. This time is intended to help Americans understand estate planning and encourage them to put a plan in place. Its also a great time to review an existing estate plan and make changes if necessary.
Estate planning is the preparation of a plan for distribution of your estate after you pass, including naming those who will oversee the estate administration. It also includes the preparation of documents to name those individuals will handle your affairs if you are incapacitated.
Estate planning can also involve planning to preserve your savings and investments from inheritance taxes or the costs of long-term care, such as nursing home costs.
Here are some tips for getting your estate plan in order:
- Look through your existing estate plan and see if updates to your plan are necessary. If you have a Last Will & Testament, do you need to name a new executor? Change beneficiaries? Or address other changes in your life since the documents were initially drafted. Perhaps they have not been updated since your children were young or before you had grandchildren.
- Think of you would be best to serve as your agent under powers of attorney. These documents name someone to manage your financial and healthcare affairs if you are incapacitated. You can name an agent for managing financial affairs and other agents for healthcare decision making. You can even name more than one individual to serve as your agent, to act together or independently from each other.
- Check your beneficiary designations. These are typically found in contracts such as life insurance policies, individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and annuities. They operate independently from your Will or Trust document.
- Do you have beneficiaries with special needs? Some beneficiaries are receiving government benefits that have asset limitations, including Medical Assistance and Supplemental Security Income. You can avoid affecting these benefits by leaving an inheritance to them in a Special Needs Trust. This trust would be set forth in a document such as your Last Will & Testament and be funded at your passing.
- Do you need to start thinking about asset protection? Normally done later in life, this area of estate planning involves transferring ownership of assets out of your name in an attempt to protect your assets from possible expenses, such as nursing home costs. An Asset Protection Trust is often used to shelter a home or other investments from the potential cost of care. Such a plan should be commenced five (5) years before care is needed.
Every estate plan is different and can be drafted to suit your needs. From family farms to gas and royalty rights, everyone has as a unique estate plan. During this Estate Planning Awareness Week, consider updating or preparing your own plan.