Creating a Master Estate Plan
Estate planning is a tool that enables you to decide how the things you own should be handled after death or incapacitation. It also enables your wishes to be carried out quickly and smoothly and determines the degree to which probate can be avoided. A well-thought-out estate plan allows you to provide financial security for your family by ensuring your property will be preserved and passed on to the appropriate beneficiaries. It can ensure the well-being of your family, the guardianship of minor children, the extent of medical treatment you desire and provide for a favorite charity. It can also help you minimize estate taxes and other administrative costs, and ensure competent management of your property or business in the case of incapacitation.
Another aspect of estate planning is that it helps you mitigate or avoid disputes among family members.
Some of the more common assets addressed during the planning process include:
Estate Planning Strategies
Your estate plan should generally aim to give you more control over assets during your life, provide for your care if you become disabled or incapacitated, and allow for the transfer of your wealth to whom you wish, when you want, and at the lowest possible cost.
Estate planning strategies generally include:
- Financial power of attorney (POA). Authorizes a trusted principal to act on your behalf, either effective immediately or based upon a future event like incapacitation.
- Healthcare power of attorney. Authorizes a trusted designee to make decisions on your health care should you become mentally or physically unable to do so.
- Living will/Advanced directive. Expresses your specific desires should you become critically injured, terminally ill, or unable to share your wishes. It can also spell out the types of life-prolonging medical treatment you want or do not want such as a do not resuscitate (DNR) order.
- Will. Helps with the property that must go through probate. You can appoint someone you trust to act as the executor and appoint a guardian or conservator to handle the care of minor children, including minor or adult children with disabilities.
- Living trust. Allows you to distribute property, avoid probate, and minimize estate taxes, especially if you have a large estate. One type to consider is a revocable living trust, where property is transferred to the trust. You control the property while living and you can revoke it at any time. Upon death, a trustee you appoint ensures the property is transferred to those you selected as beneficiaries. An irrevocable living trust avoids probate but requires you to give up your right to revoke.
- Asset ownership. Assets that have title ownership can be set up so that the title automatically passes to a co-owner. The co-owner, however, would have to agree to any loans secured for the property. Also, careful consideration of value should be made for titled property which could trigger a federal gift tax.
- Insurance. As part of a robust risk mitigation plan, insurance policies can help you cover not only your assets, but also your debts, care, and even burial costs. These include life, disability, automobile, and homeowner policies and they are generally used at different intervals in your life. Our Life Events Timeline can help you assess these needs.
- Business succession plan. For business owners, a succession plan outlines a roadmap for a smooth transition of ownership after your death or incapacitation.
Letter of intent. Another tool to consider as part of your estate plan is a Letter of Intent (LOI). Though not a legally binding document, such a letter serves as a statement of your desires that offers your executor guidance on a variety of topics.
Generally, an LOI should include:
- Who to notify of your death or incapacitation
- Wishes and desires on what happens to your children
- Location of assets, documents, and even hidden cash
- How to distribute mementos
- Details on account login ID and passwords
- Burial desires
- For business owners, business continuity instructions
Gifting and charitable endeavors. For some people, philanthropy represents the very essence of leaving a legacy behind by giving back to the community and caring for others. We can help you with your charitable giving goals including private foundations, charitable remainder trusts, and donor-advised funds. Our Guide to Charitable Giving can serve as a leap-off point for discussion with your financial advisor.
Check out our carefully curated articles on estate planning.
Learn more about preparing questions for your estate planning attorney.
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