1. What is Estate Planning?

Estate planning is crafting a family plan designed to help your family successfully navigate the difficult times after your passing. An effective estate plan is more than just passing material wealth from one generation to the next; it’s a reflection of the life you’ve lived, the lessons you’ve learned, and the hopes you have for the generations that follow.

2. Why Do I Need Estate Planning?

Just as you’ve always looked out for your family’s well-being, this is a way to do so when you’re no longer physically present. Whether your long-term goal is taking care of your family or donating to charities and causes you believe in, drafting an effective estate plan creates tools to accomplish your wishes. Ultimately, it’s about ensuring the fruits of your lifelong labor benefit your loved ones.

3. What Documents are Essential in an Estate Plan?

When people think of estate plans, they usually think of a Will and/or a Trust. While these are both important pillars of an estate plan, it is imperative to consider the ultimate goals of an estate plan. When planning for your estate, it is important to consider what happens after you pass. It should also take into account what happens if, for example, you are unable to make decisions on your own behalf. Below is a breakdown of how common documents in a typical estate plan work:

  • Wills: Perhaps the most well-known document in estate planning, a Will leaves a set of instructions as to what you would like to have happen to your assets. This document lays out who should receive what assets and ensures those assets are administered properly. A well thought out Will can also help ensure that cherished items and family treasures are passed to specific loved ones, continuing their sentimental journey through generations.
  • Trusts: Trusts are versatile instruments allowing you to set aside assets for specific purposes or individuals, leaving trusted individuals as Trustees in charge of their administration and distribution. For example, you want to fund a grandchild’s education, have a family property you want to keep within the family, or you don’t want someone to receive all their inheritance at once, Trusts can be structured to take your estate planning goals into account to ensure they are being followed.
  • Powers of Attorney: There may come a time when you’re unable to make financial or medical decisions. A Power of Attorney is a way of appointing someone you trust to make those decisions on your behalf. It’s akin to handing someone the key to your home, trusting they’ll care for it as you would.
  • Healthcare Directives: As we age, our views on medical treatments and end-of-life care become more defined. A healthcare directive allows you to specify your wishes. It’s a way to guide your family, sparing them the anguish of making these tough choices without your input. Think of this as leaving behind a roadmap for your care, ensuring your life journey’s final leg is as you wish, with dignity and respect.

4. Do I Need a Will or a Trust?

Ultimately, the goal is the same: to craft a legacy that reflects your values, cares for your family, and ensures the stories and assets you’ve gathered over a lifetime continue to benefit future generations.

It’s like deciding between writing an autobiography or creating a family tree. Both capture your legacy, but it’s important to consult with one of the estate planning attorneys at Turke & Strauss LLP to see which framework works best for you and your family.

5. What Happens if I Don’t Have an Estate Plan?

Remember those family stories that would be lost if not shared? Without an estate plan, some of the choices about your legacy will be made in accordance with what the state decides through what’s known as intestacy statutes, and without the intimate knowledge of your family’s circumstances or story.

Meaning no matter what your desires or intentions would have been, without an estate plan, state law ultimately decides. Unfortunately, this oftentimes leads to unwanted costs, delays, results, and fighting. All this heartache could be avoided through the creation of an effective estate plan.

6. Can I Make Changes to My Estate Plan?

Life is full of chapters. As new members join the family or circumstances change, your estate plan can often be updated or revised to reflect your evolving legacy. At Turke & Strauss, we are happy to assist in making changes to your estate plans, even if they were initially drafted elsewhere.

7. What is Probate, and How Can I Avoid It?

Probate is like a lengthy court-supervised family meeting after you’re gone, discussing and distributing what you left behind. With careful planning, a well-crafted estate plan can transfer most of your assets outside of this process. This helps avoid higher costs, unnecessary delays, and protects your confidentiality. It simplifies the process, letting your family focus on cherishing memories instead of legalities.

8. How Do I Choose Beneficiaries and Personal Representatives (“Executors”)?

Beneficiaries: Beneficiaries are the individuals or organizations you designate to receive your assets, be it properties, savings, life insurance payouts, or specific heirlooms. For most people, these choices evoke strong and deep emotions. When selecting beneficiaries, it’s essential to consider the current dynamics and needs of the family. It’s about balancing fairness with understanding the unique circumstances and aspirations of each family member.

Personal Representatives (“Executors”): The role of the Personal Representative (also known as an “executor”) is to ensure your wishes, as outlined in your will, are honored, and carried out efficiently. They handle everything from collecting, inventorying and administering assets subject to the will, to settling debts, distributing assets, even mundane tasks like discontinuing utilities.

  • Given the significance of this role, the choice of a Personal Representative should reflect trust, reliability, and capability. Often, individuals lean toward selecting one of their adult children or a close family friend. However, it’s crucial to pick someone who’s not only trustworthy but also organized and, ideally, familiar with or capable of navigating legal and financial processes.

For those with more complex estates or who wish to alleviate this burden from family members, professional fiduciaries might be considered. It ensures a level of professionalism and expertise in managing the affairs of the estate.

9. What about Incapacity Planning?

As seasons change, sometimes health does too. If a day comes when you can’t make decisions, who do you trust to hold the family compass and guide the way? A comprehensive estate plan should account for this possibility.

10. How Do I Protect Family Members with Special Needs?

Every family tree has unique needs. This is about creating structures to ensure the vulnerable are protected. When you have a child with special needs, special factors need to be considered.

It is important to structure the management of assets set aside for family members who face challenges in the best position possible, even after you’re gone. It is critical to understand the impact of how assets left to, or for, them could affect their lives, their eligibility for needs-based government benefits, and what can be done to enable them to qualify for such benefits while remaining a beneficiary of assets you set aside for them.

Your estate plan is a testament to your love, foresight, and commitment to ensuring your family’s history remains vibrant for generations to come. If you have any additional questions or would like to take the next steps in setting up or modifying your estate plan, please reach out to us at EstatePlan@TurkeStrauss.com, or call the office at 608-237-1775.