Estate planning is not just about documents. The planning process requires a thoughtful discussion with an experienced attorney to identify areas of concern and vulnerability, followed by the design and implementation of a plan with appropriate documents to address these areas. The plan can be very simple or more complex, depending on one’s particular situation. When beginning the planning process with an attorney, consider the following:
It’s not just about the stuff. It’s common to assume an estate plan is about leaving an inheritance to your loved ones. Often the focus quickly shifts from “how much” to “when” and “how.” Perhaps you have a child with a tendency to overspend. You may also fear leaving a generous inheritance to your children might discourage them from working. Have you even considered that your spouse may someday remarry, and your assets eventually pass to the new spouse’s family? A full discussion of your estate plan should address all of your concerns.
It’s not just about after you are gone. What about the possibility of you or your spouse becoming disabled? Who will oversee your property or handle your business affairs? How is disability determined, and by whom? The answers to these questions should be part of your plan. If you become disabled without any estate planning, the court will step in to appoint a guardian to manage your financial affairs, and see to your personal and medical care.
What about doctors, insurance and government resources? Who is authorized to provide treating physicians with care instructions for an ailing loved one, who has access to one’s health information, and who is authorized to interact with insurance companies, Social Security, Medicare and other government agencies? A comprehensive estate plan should provide for all of this.
What if I do nothing? Should you die without a plan, your assets will go to your closest relatives under the state of Florida’s intestate succession laws, as determined by the probate court. The only factors involved in the distribution of assets are whether or not you have a spouse, children, living parents or other close relatives when you die. All distributions are predetermined and there is no opportunity to protect your spouse, children or other relatives from creditors, predators or their own bad habits. Moreover, if you leave minor children, their guardian will have access to your assets.
Estate planning is an interactive and collective process which commences once a client meets with their trusted legal counselor. It should not simply be a “check the box” or “fill out the form” exercise. The value of estate planning is the advice and guidance received, not the documents delivered.
Life can change in an instant. What are you waiting for?