Estate planning is a process to consider alternatives for, to think through, and to set up legally effective arrangements that would meet your specific wishes if something happens to you or those you care about. Good estate planning is more than just a simple Will. Estate planning also typically minimizes potential taxes and fees, and sets up contingency planning to make sure your wishes regarding health care treatment are followed.
On the financial side, a good estate plan coordinates what would happen with your home, your investments, your business, your life insurance, your employee benefits (such as a 401K plan), and other property in the event you became disabled or if you die.
On the personal side, a good estate plan includes directions to carry out your wishes regarding health care matters, so that if you ever are unable to give the directions yourself, someone you select would do that for you, and know when you would want them to authorize heroic measures or when you would prefer they discontinue life support systems.
Only an attorney who regularly practices in the fields of wills, trusts, probate and estate planning is able to provide you with really sound legal advice as you put your estate plan into place. Attorneys are subject to regulation by state bar organizations, many of which have continuing education requirements.
When you speak with an attorney, you can get answers to your questions, including how much it would cost.
Often the expense incurred in retaining an attorney to prepare and help you put an estate plan into place is worth hundreds of times what you and your family would pay with no planning or poor planning. It would also avoid the financial and emotional nightmares that can occur with a poorly drafted (or improper) will or estate plan.
The term estate consists of all the property a person owns or controls, whether in his or her sole name, held in a partnership, in a joint ownership arrangement, or through a trust, and all other monies that would be generated on the person`s death, such as through life insurance. It includes:
The only time that you can prepare and implement an estate plan is while you are alive and have legal capacity to enter into a contract. If you are unable to manage your own affairs or suffer from some other disability which affects your legal capacity, your estate plan may be effectively challenged by those who assert that you lacked capacity at the time the documents were created, that you were subjected to fraud, coercion or undue influence during the creation and implementation of your plan.
The best time to start an estate plan is now, while you have the capacity to do so.
You should have an estate plan if:
An estate plan consists of one or more documents that set forth instructions. Some documents are used to control health care decisions, others control your property in the event of your incapacity, and still other documents will control the distribution of your property in the event of your death.
An estate plan uses several tools which can prevent the court from gaining jurisdiction over your affairs.
As you begin the process caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). There is a lot of information out there; while some of it is very good, some is misleading at best.
There are many over-the-counter guides to estate planning available at bookstores. Some are pretty decent, most are not complete. If you are planning to do it yourself, be prepared to spend a fair amount of time on this project, but at least have an Attorney review your documents at a reduced cost.
Several of the following documents are typically used as part of the estate planning process: