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Do We Need Estate Planning?

Estate planning is not just about making a will, nor is it just for people who live in mansions. Estate planning is best described in the title of this article “Estate planning is an important strategy for arranging financial affairs and protecting heirs—here are five reasons why everyone needs an estate plan” from Business Insider. Estate planning is a plan for the future, for you, your spouse and those you love.

There are a number of reasons for estate planning:

  • Avoiding paying more federal and state taxes than necessary
  • Ensuring that assets are distributed as you want
  • Naming the people you choose for your own care, if you become incapacitated; and/or
  • Naming the people you choose to care for your minor children, if something should happen to you and your spouse.

If that sounds like a lot to accomplish, you’re right. However, with the help of a trusted estate planning attorney, an estate plan can provide you with the peace of mind that comes with having all of the above.

If those decisions and designations are not made by you while you are alive and legally competent, the state law and the courts will determine who will get your assets, raise your children and how much your estate will pay in death taxes to the government. You can avoid that with an estate plan.

Here are the five key things about estate planning:

It’s more than a will. The estate plan includes creating Durable Powers of Attorney to appoint individuals who will make medical and/or financial decisions, if you are not able to do so. The estate plan also contains Medical Directives to communicate your wishes about what kind of care you do or do not want, if you are so sick you cannot do so for yourself. The estate plan is where you can create Trusts to control how property passes from one person or one generation to the next.

Estate planning saves time, money, and angst. If you have a surviving spouse, they are usually the ones who serve as your executor. However, if you do not and if you do not have an estate plan, the court names a public administrator to distribute assets according to state law. While this is happening, no one can access your assets. There’s a lot of paperwork and a lot of legal fees. With a will, you name an executor who will take care of and gain access to most, if not all, of your assets and administer them according to your instructions.

Estate planning includes being sure that investment and retirement accounts with a beneficiary designation have been completed. If you don’t name a beneficiary, the asset goes through the probate court. If you fail to update your beneficiary designations, your ex or a person from your past may end up with your biggest assets.

Estate planning is also tax planning. While federal taxes only impact the very wealthy right now, that is likely to change in the future. States also have estate taxes and inheritance taxes of their own, at considerably lower exemption levels than federal taxes. If you wish your heirs to receive more of your money than the government, tax planning should be part of your estate plan.

The estate plan is also used to protect minor children. No one expects to die prematurely, and no one expects that two spouses with young children will die. However, it does happen, and if there is no will in place, then the court makes all the decisions: who will raise your children, and where, how their upbringing will be financed, or, if there are no available family members, if the children should become wards of the state and enter the foster care system. That’s probably not what you want.

The estate plan includes the identification of the person(s) you want to raise your children, and who will be in charge of the assets left in trust for the children, like proceeds from a life insurance policy. This can be the same person, but often the financial and child-rearing roles are divided between two trustworthy people. Naming an alternate for each position is also a good idea, just in case the primary people cannot serve.

Estate planning, finally, also takes care of you while you are living, with a power of attorney and healthcare proxy. That way someone you know, and trust can step in, if you are unable to take care of your legal and financial affairs.

Once your estate plan is in place, remember that it is like your home: it needs to be updated every three or four years, or when there are big changes to tax law or in your life.

Reference: Business Insider (Jan. 14, 2021) “Estate planning is an important strategy for arranging financial affairs and protecting heirs—here are five reasons why everyone needs an estate plan”

Common Estate Planning Mistakes That You Can Avoid

The number one estate planning mistake is failing to have or to update an estate plan, says the Times Herald in the article “Top six estate planning mistakes.” Therefore, start by working with an estate planning attorney to create an estate plan, and you’ll be way ahead of most Americans. Why does this matter?

An estate plan allows you to stay in control of your assets while you are alive, provide for your loved ones and for yourself in the event you become mentally or physically incapacitated, and when you die, give what you have worked to achieve to those you wish. It costs far less to take care of all of this while you are alive. It’s a gift to those you love, who are spared a lot of stress and costs if it must be figured out after you have passed.

Once you have a plan in place, you have to keep it updated. An estate plan is like a car: it needs gas, oil changes, and regular maintenance. If your family experiences significant changes, then your estate plan needs to be reviewed. If you change jobs, have a change in your financial status, or if you receive an inheritance, it’s time for a review. When there are changes to the law, regarding taxes or non-tax matters, you’ll want to make sure your plan still works.

The second biggest mistake we make is failing to plan for retirement. If you start thinking about retirement when it is five or 10 years away, you’re probably going to be working for a long time. When you are in your twenties, it is the ideal time to start saving for retirement. Most people don’t start thinking about retirement until their thirties, and many don’t plan at all.

There are many different “rules” for how to save for retirement and how to calculate how much income you’ll need to live during retirement. However, not all of them work for every situation. Advisors are now telling Americans they need to plan for living until and past their ninetieth birthday. That means you could be living in retirement for four decades.

Mistake number three—failing to fund trusts. Trust funding is completely and correctly aligning your assets with your trust. If you don’t fund the trust, which means putting assets into the trust by retitling assets that include bank accounts, investment accounts, real estate, insurance policies and other assets, adding the trust as an additional insured to home and auto insurance policies and have every change verified, you have an incomplete estate plan. Your heirs will have to clean up the mess left behind.

Fourth, failing to communicate your estate plan to your executor, beneficiaries and heirs is a common and easily avoidable mistake. Talk with everyone who is a part of your estate plan and explain what their roles are. Speak with the person you have named as Power of Attorney and Healthcare Proxy on a regular basis. Make sure they continue to be willing and able to perform the tasks you need them to do on your behalf. Make sure they know where your documents are.

Fifth, don’t neglect to make arrangements for bills to be paid and financial matters to be handled, when you are not able to do so. There are many studies which show that after age 60, our financial abilities decrease about 1% per year. Expect to need help at some point during your later years and put a plan in place to protect yourself and your spouse. If you are the main bill-payer, make sure your spouse can take care of everything as well as you, before any emergency strikes.

Finally, talk with your successors about what you would like to happen if and when you become mentally unable to make good decisions, including caregiving options. As we age, the likelihood of needing to be in a nursing home or other care facility increases. You can’t necessarily rely on your spouse living long enough to take care of you. Make sure that your financial power of attorney contains the appropriate gifting language, your assets are titled properly, and your successor financial agents know about the plan you have created. If you don’t have a long-term care policy now, try to buy one. They are less expensive than having to pay for care.

Protect yourself, your family and your loved ones by addressing these steps. You’ll be giving yourself, your spouse and your loved ones peace of mind.

Reference: Times Herald (Dec. 14, 2018) “Top six estate planning mistakes”

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