Estate Planning & Wills
“Thrift is a wonderful virtue – especially in an ancestor.”
Estate Planning is more than just writing up a list of who gets your stuff. The process of creating an estate plan explores and documents your wishes for what should happen to you, your family, and your property both before and after death.
Planning for incapacity is the first step. What happens if you’re unable to make decisions for yourself? Who will make those decisions? Who will handle your obligations on your behalf? What happens if you are diagnosed with a terminal illness? These issues are handled through several critical documents.
1. The Financial/General Durable Power of Attorney, which allows your agent to handle your financial affairs if you cannot.
2. The Medical Durable Power of Attorney, which allows your agent to make decisions about your medical treatment if you cannot.
3. Advanced Directive as to Medical or Surgical Treatment (Living Will), which lets your family and your medical team know your wishes if you are in a terminal condition and on life-support.
4. Parental Delegation of Authority, which designates a person to take care of your children if you cannot.
The second step is to plan for what happens upon your death. How will your assets be divided and managed? Who will take care of your children? How much of your assets will be consumed by estate taxes? There are several documents that are included to this portion of the plan.
1. A Will or Revocable Trust (with a “pour-over” will).
2. A list showing how you want your tangible personal property (stuff) distributed.
3. Probably retitling of assets and beneficiary designations.
4. Maybe a declaration of disposition of your last remains.
What does this process cost? Well, as in everything it depends on the complexity of the issue. If your estate (including your life insurance, house, etc.) adds up to LESS than $2,000,000, then he process and documents should be somewhere in the $500-750 for a couple. The more assets, the more complex the plan, and the more you’ll need to invest in the estate planning and document drafting process – a little investment now can save a lot of money later.
Here’s a tool to help plan your will: (“Fillable” PDF Will Worksheet)
The “Personal Representative” is the person that work with the lawyer to close your estate – something like a 24-month gig.
The “Guardian” raises your minor children to adulthood. Pick a single person and an alternate, not a couple.
The “Trustee” handles the money for the benefit of your minor children. Again, pick a single person or instituion and an alternate, not a couple. This could be a long gig depending on how old you want your children to be before they get the funds free and clear.
As for distributing the funds, many of my clients distribute the funds in three increments – at 21, 25, and 30 – figuring that at 21 the kids will be finishing undergrad and could use a little bump, then at 25 to help with families, first houses, graduate school, etc. Finally, by 30 most people should be beyond the “dead hand” of a controlling parent, and we want the trustee to be off the hook for handling the money. This decision is up to you and can be handled any way you want. It’s your money – even if you’re not around at this point.