An estate plan needs tailoring case by case. Though it is always advised to hand the matter over to an estate planning attorney, you should still have a basic understanding of what is involved in this process. Here comes the essential checklist which we believe can satisfy your questions about essential requirements for estate planning
Basic consideration towards Estate Planning
A comprehensive estate plan should consider what happens in the event of both death and disability. You should take the following items into consideration:
- Property management upon your death
- The financial well-being of your family
- The degree to which probate can be avoided
- How to eliminate or minimize estate taxes.
- Setting up ownership of assets, designating beneficiaries, executing one or more estate planning forms.
- The guardianship of any minor children, and medical treatment planning.
Your Asset Ownership: Solely or Joint Ownership
In the estate planning, it is important to note that any asset that has title documents (real estate, motor vehicles, etc.) can be set up so that upon your death the title automatically passes to a co-owner, generally your spouse.
- If you are about to pass your assets to your spouse, make sure that the title document must clearly indicate that ownership is held as joint tenants with rights of survivor-ship, as tenants by the entire-ties, or as community property.
- When adding joint owners, you will need their approval to any sale of, or loan secured by the property. If the value of the property exceeds a certain amount, it could trigger the federal gift tax.
Design Your Beneficiaries
For some assets you can designate someone to receive the property upon your death, without giving them any current ownership rights. This is often done with bank and other financial accounts (usually called pay-on-death or POD). Designating a beneficiary is available in almost all states for brokerage accounts, and in some states for real estate, motor vehicles, and other assets with title documents (usually called transfer-on-death or TOD).
Cover Your Debts With Insurance
To ensure that all of your debts including funeral expenses are paid in the event of death or disability, you can use auto, homeowners, disability, and life insurance.
Get A Last Will and Testament
It is essential in the estate planning that you leave a last will and testament to manage probated property as well as to take care of any minor children (or adult children with disabilities).
This document will handle properties that hasn’t been dealt through joint ownership or a beneficiary designation, appoint someone you trust as the executor of your estate, and appoint
someone you trust to be guardian of your minor or disabled children.
Consider A Living Trust
If you have a large estate, or many beneficiaries, a living trust is usually the best choice for handling distribution of property, avoiding probate, and minimizing estate taxes. To avoid probate, most people create a revocable living trust (“revocable” since you may revoke the trust at any time). Property title is transferred from you to the living trust, and you become the trustee.
While you are still alive, you control the property. You manage the property the same as if it was still in your name (sell or mortgage it, for example), and may acquire more property and add it to the trust. Upon death, a person you appoint as your successor trustee assures that the property is transferred to those you designate as trust beneficiaries. This transfer does not require probate. The successor trustee would also manage the trust if you become mentally incapacitated. People sometimes create an irrevocable living trust (most often for Medical planning), which also avoids probate, but requires the person creating it to give up the right to revoke it.
Consider A Financial Power of Attorney
A financial Power of Attorney authorizes someone you trust to act on your behalf in financial matters. The person who gives the authority is called the principal, and the person who has the authority to act for the principal is called the agent or the attorney-in-fact. Most states have an official financial Power of Attorney form.
Depending upon how it is worded, a Power of Attorney (or PoA) can either become effective immediately, or upon the occurrence of a future event (such as your mental incapacity). If effective immediately, your agent may act even if you are available and not incapacitated. If a PoA becomes effective upon the occurrence of a future event, it is called a springing Power of Attorney, because it “springs” into effect if the event occurs. The authority conferred by a PoA always ends upon the death of the principal.
Consider A Health Care Power of Attorney
A health care Power of Attorney designates someone you trust to make decisions regarding your health care in the event you are mentally or physically unable to make decisions for yourself. You should discuss your desires for medical treatment with your health care agent (sometimes called a surrogate).
Get A Living Will
A living will, also known as an advance directive, sets forth your wishes regarding what types of life-prolonging medical treatment you do, or do not want in the event you become terminally ill or injured and are unable to communicate your wishes. A living will goes along with a health care power of attorney, as it can serve as a guide to your agent, or can express
your wishes in the event your agent is unavailable at a crucial moment.
Inform your Executor and Statement of Desires
This is not a legally binding document, but gives valuable information and guidance to your executor. It should include the information needed to clearly identify and locate all of your financial accounts, insurance policies, credit cards, vehicle loans, and mortgages. It should include contact information for relatives and close friends to be notified of your death; where
assets are located (safe deposit boxes, storage units, etc.); and instructions regarding your desires for burial, cremation, funeral ceremonies, organ donation, etc.