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Friday, June 17, 2016

Estate Planning for Your Unique Family

Estate planning is not just about documents.  It’s not about a filling out a form, or completing a checklist.  And contrary to some advertising you may have seen, it’s not a do-it yourself project. The planning process requires a thoughtful discussion with an attorney who specializes in estate planning to identify areas of concern and vulnerability, followed by the design and implementation of a plan with customized documents to address your unique needs and concerns.  The plan can be very simple or more complex, depending on one’s particular situation.  Consider the following:

It’s not just about the stuff.  You may 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, even those that you have never before shared with others.

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.  Keep in mind that 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.  This would be an expensive and for most, a scary development.

What about doctors, insurance, and government resources?   Whom would you select to have access to your health information or provide treating physicians with instructions should you not be able to?   Shouldn’t someone be authorized to interact with insurance companies, Social Security, Medicare, the IRS or Veterans Administration on your behalf?   A comprehensive estate plan should provide for all of this.

What if I do nothing?  Unfortunately, this happens quite frequently.  Many people think about estate planning, but never get around to it.  Should you die without a plan, your assets will go to your closest relatives under your state’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.  Moreover, if you leave behind minor children, their guardian will have access to your assets.

It is important to remember that the true value of consulting with an estate planning attorney is the advice and guidance given.  Creating documents without expert advice can prove to be very dangerous.  Making poor decisions now, or not updating an old plan, may leave a mess for your family to deal with.

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