Because estate planning is about taking care of yourself and those you love, it doesn’t matter how much money you have. There’s no financial threshold you must meet in order to qualify for planning. The qualifications are simple and twofold: first, you must care about someone or want to have some level of control over your life, health, and assets; and, second, you must be age 18 or older.
Think of estate planning as the creation of your written instructions combined with the legal language necessary to accomplish your goals. If you want to control how things are handled for the rest of your life and after your death, you must have your own estate plan. Your instructions will protect and provide for you, your spouse or partner, children, pets, assets, goals, and legacy.
Though most people don’t associate estate planning with fun, we call it “happy law.” Why? Because we spend our days protecting our clients and their families, creating legacies, and benefiting charities. Knowing, that you’ve taken care of everything and everyone, will make you, your loved ones, and us, happy.
Some people start thinking of getting a will in place when children arrive on the scene so guardians are named. Most people start thinking about planning their estates when they reach retirement age. However, you might be surprised, even shocked, to know that the best time to plan your estate is at age 18. The second best time to plan your estate is right now.
Age 18? My 18-Year-Old Doesn’t Have An Estate!
Most 18-year-olds don’t have significant assets, but what they do have is legal status as an adult. That means parents are no longer able to make health care and financial decisions – or access college records – without written legal authorization.
Babies? Are Babies Considered an Estate?
Children (and your spouse) are likely the most important part of your estate. And, yes, when you have babies, you absolutely need an estate plan. Here’s why: without your written legal instruction, the court will decide who raises your children if you become incapacitated or die. If you think the court will pick who you’d select, you could be horribly wrong. And, without your written legal instruction, the court will mandate that your assets be distributed via your state’s intestacy laws, not by your choice.
Besides, you have a responsibility to provide for your children – that means assets to get them launched into the world as well as the love and guidance of people who will do their best to raise them. You certainly don’t need family members fighting over the kids or, worse, no one willing to take them so they end up in foster care.
The assets you leave for your children need to be protected from creditors, taxes, and the kids themselves – no child is well served by inheriting a boat load of money at age 18. The guardians need guidance as well – what do you want for your kids’ education, activities, medical care, extended family and friends, religion or spirituality, worldview, etc.? All these considerations are part of estate planning.
Every Other Age
When you’re age 17 or younger, you’re covered by your parents’ estate plan. Once you hit legal adulthood, it’s time to step up and take care of business yourself. If you want to have any say in what happens to you, your family, and your assets, you need written instructions and those instructions are called an estate plan.
You can do important things like documenting how you want things to go if you suffer a health crisis or die. We’ll help you appoint trusted helpers and protect assets – heck – you can even protect your dog. You have a lot of power now – you’ll have no power later, without a written legally enforceable plan.
Get It Done Now
Today’s the day to call our office and get on the calendar so we can get you, your children and other loved ones, and your assets protected. Estate planning is way more important than you can even imagine. Just recently I was helping a child who was accidentally disinherited by his parents. Imagine the upset, anger, despair, and bewilderment. A parent had gotten remarried and put assets in joint names… Tragic. Don’t let something horrid like that happen to someone you love. Call our office now, we’ll get you in.
We typically start the estate planning process by sending you an estate planning organizer to gather basic information about you, your family, and your estate. Then we schedule a meeting to discuss your goals, review your options, and design your estate plan. Next, we prepare drafts of the necessary documents and send you either a summary or the actual drafts to review. If we have not already done so, we will schedule a meeting to sign the documents.
The legal documents memorializing your estate plan are all related but serve different purposes. Here is a list of the main documents and a short description of what each one does.
Revocable Trust: The foundation of the plan will typically be a revocable trust, sometimes referred to as a living trust. It provides for handling of your property now and disposition of it after your passing. It replaces your last will and testament for property placed in the trust. You title your property and belongings in the trust, but you are trustee of the trust and have complete and absolute control over everything in it. The trust just holds legal title to avoid the stress and cost of probate. You can amend or terminate the trust at any time. You name a successor trustee to serve if you are no longer able or desire to serve.
Pour-over Will: This is a “safety net” under your trust, and its only purpose is to transfer assets into the trust if you forget to do it. If all of your assets get properly transferred to your trust, the will is not used.
Durable Power of Attorney: This general power of attorney appoints an agent to handle your business affairs if you are unable due to incapacity or unavailability. You name a successor agent in case the primary agent is unable to serve in this role for any reason.
Health Records Authorization: Because your health records are protected by a federal law commonly known as HIPAA, your family or agent cannot access those records even if you want them to. This authorization gives the persons you designate the ability to deal with your medical and health insurance records.
Health Care Power of Attorney: This power of attorney appoints an agent to make health care decisions for you if you are unable. Like the Health Records Authorization, it also gives your agent the ability to access your medical records. You name a successor agent in case the primary agent is unable to serve in this role for any reason.
Advance Health Care Directive: This is sometimes referred to as a “living will”. It is a document that directs health care providers to not prolong the dying process by artificial means if you are terminally ill or injured. Some clients want this and some do not. It is your decision.
There may be additional documents necessary to carry out the plan, but these are the foundation of your estate plan.
We all have a lawsuit bulls-eye on our backs. Unfortunately, lawsuits, including frivolous lawsuits, are filed daily against good people like you. Asset protection planning, which is an important part of estate planning, can protect you, your family, and your assets. You’ve likely already done some asset protection planning such as purchasing homeowners’ and auto insurance.
There are many ways to protect assets and the method we use will depend upon your goals, assets, and family. As we briefly mentioned, purchasing insurance is the simplest form of asset protection.
Additional methods include:
- Setting up a business entity such as an LLC to own rental real estate or a business
- Including lifetime trusts for your spouse and children in your revocable living trust
- Purchasing long-term care insurance and/or Medicaid/nursing home planning
- Using domestic asset protection, spousal, children’s, grandchildren’s, or life insurance trusts
- Implementing offshore planning
Asset protection planning helps you reduce risk of loss of assets from lawsuits, including divorce, landlord/tenant, car accident, slip & fall, bankruptcy, business failure, malpractice, and the like. We’ll help you to analyze risk, options, and peace of mind to get the best level of asset protection in place for you and your family.
Almost all of our clients ask us whether they should have a revocable living trust (RLT). While we absolutely love the flexibility and protections RLTs provide, not everyone under the sun needs one. Use this checklist as your own. If any of these statements ring true to you, place a checkmark in the corresponding box like this .
I want to:
☐ Control my property while I’m alive
☐ Take care of myself and my loved ones even if I become incapacitated or disabled
☐ Pass my property to my heirs when and how I want
☐ Keep my family and financial affairs private
☐ Avoid court interference
☐ Avoid probate
☐ Give all inheritances layered in asset protection, so my beneficiaries don’t lose their inheritance during divorce, bankruptcy, medical crisis, business failure, car accident, lawsuit, etc.
☐ Protect my assets so that they cannot be lost if my spouse/partner gets remarried
☐ Avoid beneficiary overspending and misuse of funds
☐ Educate my children and grandchildren
☐ Reduce the risk of will contests
☐ Minimize taxes
☐ Minimize attorney, court, and administrative fees
☐ Benefit a charity
☐ Protect and provide for a pet
If you check off something on this list, then let’s discuss whether an RLT is a good fit for you. If you check off many things on this list, an RLT is probably a good fit; and, if you check off nothing, will-based planning may be a better fit. Rest assured, this checklist is just an initial measurement of goals; we always talk everything through with our clients to make sure you have the absolutely best plan for your individual situation.
Your estate plan is a snapshot of you, your goals, your family, your assets, tax laws, and other laws in effect at the time it was created. All of these variables change over time, and so should your plan. It is unreasonable to expect the simple will written when you were a newlywed to be effective now that you have a growing family, or now that you are divorced from your spouse, or now that you are retired and have an ever increasing swarm of grandchildren.
Over the course of your lifetime, your estate plan will need check-ups, maintenance, tweaking, and, even, replacing. So, how do you know when it’s time to give your estate plan a check-up? If you actively participate in our client maintenance program, you’re protected unless there’s been a recent change in your personal, family, financial or health situation. If you’ve experienced any of these changes or moved to a new state, call our office immediately to make sure you’re still protected.
If you’re not yet part of our client maintenance program and it’s been more than 3 years since your plan was reviewed by an estate planning attorney, then it’s time to come in. We’ll review your plan and determine whether it’s still aligned with your life snapshot – you, goals, family, assets, tax laws, and other laws. You may be okay and, if so, we’ll tell you such – or – you may need an update – and, if that’s the case, we’ll get your plan updated for you.