What is an Estate Plan?
There is no single definition of an Estate Plan. An Estate Plan may consist of any number of planning documents. Some basic documents included in most Estate Plans are Living Trusts, Wills, Powers of Attorney for Property, Powers of Attorney for Health Care, Living Wills, HIPAA Authorizations. Any documents that control the disposition of assets at death or the handling of your affairs during incapacity may be considered “Estate Planning” documents.
Do I need an Estate Plan?
Yes. Whether you are married or single, wealthy or living paycheck to paycheck, have children or not, sick or healthy, everyone needs an estate plan. Failure to plan your estate results in the state in which you are resident at the time of your death planning it for you. There are default rules that control the disposition of your assets at death, and other rules that govern what happens in the event of your incapacity. Unfortunately, those rules do not take your individual circumstances into consideration, and their implementation tends to be time-consuming and, therefore, more expensive than planning your own Estate.
How do I choose an Estate Planning Attorney?
There are several factors that you should consider in choosing an Estate Planning attorney:
1.) Expertise: Estate Planning is one of the most complex areas of the law. Obviously, you would not hire a real estate lawyer to handle your divorce; nor would you seek a heart specialist for a broken ankle. The same concept applies when it comes to your Estate Plan. The Estate Planning arena is extraordinarily complex when compared to many other areas of law, and the attorney must be well-versed in the areas of federal and state estate taxes, applicable income tax rules and state and federal laws as they relate to Estate Planning.
2.) Integrity: Estate Planning is highly personal. You will be sharing the intimate details of your personal and financial life with this professional. Competence is not enough; it is critical that your attorney be highly ethical and above reproach.
3.) Compatibility: Estate Planning is a process, and not an event. Ideally, the relationship with your Estate Planning attorney will be a long-term, if not life long, relationship. Compatibility is a critical component of any effective relationship, especially one of long duration.
How often should my estate plan be reviewed?
The one constant in life is change. Therefore, estate planning should be viewed as a process not an event. You should review your estate plan annually on your own. In addition, you should review you estate plan with your estate planning attorney as often as is recommended by the attorney. Upon completing an estate plan, we give every client a recommended review schedule which can range from meeting annually to only as needed if the clients has a significant change in there health, wealth, or family situation. Just as you maintain your car or have regular physical checkups, it is important to maintain your Estate Plan to insure it is keeping up with changing circumstances.
What do my Trustee/Personal Representative need to do upon my death?
The Trustee or Personal Representative should contact your estate planning attorney. A Trustee or Personal Representative is known as a “fiduciary”. Errors or mistakes in your fiduciary capacity can result in lawsuits and personal liability. A qualified estate planning attorney can assist and advise your Trustee or Personal Representative to make sure the administration of the estate is handled properly.