Nearly everyone has an estate. Your estate is comprised of everything you own – your car, real estate, checking and savings accounts, investments, life insurance, furniture, and personal possessions. No matter how large or modest, everyone with an estate has something in common – you can’t take it with you.
Estate planning is the process of organizing your personal and financial affairs to be prepared in the event of death or disability.
In its broad sense, the term “estate planning” entails more than providing for the disposition of your assets upon your death with a minimum amount of taxation. While your estate plan should certainly include an expression of who you wish to receive your property, what you want them to receive, and when that distribution should take place, a comprehensive estate plan should also provide for the administration and protection of assets during your lifetime, and for decision-making in the event of a disabling illness.
Benefits of Estate Planning
It is important to have a basic estate plan in place regardless of the size and complexity of your estate. Although it may seem like a morbid chore, estate planning offers several benefits. In addition to providing for the orderly transfer of your property to the people or organizations you care about the most, a good estate plan can also:
- Include instructions for your care if you become disabled before you die.
- State your wishes for the kind of life-sustaining medical intervention you want, or don’t want, in the event that you become terminally ill and unable to communicate.
- Name a guardian and an inheritance manager for minor children or disabled adult children.
- Grant a person you name the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become unable to do so.
- Grant a person you name the authority to manage your financial affairs if you become unable to do so.
- Provide for family members with special needs without disrupting state or federal government benefits.
- State your wishes regarding anatomical gifts – whether or not you wish to donate your body after death for medical research and education.
- State your wishes regarding how you want your remains to be treated after your death – where you would want them buried, scattered, or otherwise laid to rest.
- Provide for loved ones who might be irresponsible with money or who may need future protection from creditors or divorce.
- Provide for the transfer of your business at your retirement, disability, or death.
- Arrange it so that taxes siphon as little as possible from your estate.
- Give you the satisfaction of knowing your financial affairs are in order, so you won’t leave your loved ones with a costly administrative burden.
The goal of any proper estate plan is to accomplish these goals with the least amount paid in taxes, legal fees, and court costs.
Elements of an Estate Plan
An estate plan can include a variety of instruments, such as a will, one or more types of trusts (revocable and irrevocable trusts, insurance trusts, special needs trusts, or charitable trusts), and other documents, including advance health care directives and powers of attorney.
An advance health care directive, also known as a personal directive, or healthcare proxy, is a set of written instructions you give to a person you select as your agent that specify what actions should be taken for your health if you are no longer able to make decisions due to illness or incapacity.
For purposes of estate planning, a power of attorney is also recommended as a way to plan in the instance you are incapacitated. With a durable power of attorney, you are able to appoint an agent to manage your financial affairs, or conduct other business for you during your incapacitation.
The Key to Developing a Proper Estate Plan
The key to developing a proper estate plan is to fashion a plan designed to meet your specific needs and desires. At Aaron J. Goldberg, PLC, an experienced estate planning attorney will work with you, taking the time necessary to understand your unique circumstances and to explore various ways to implement your tailor-made estate plan.
When You Should Begin Estate Planning
It is never too early to begin estate planning. Your first step is to take stock of all your assets. These include your investments, retirement accounts, insurance policies, real estate, business interests, and valuable items (in financial or emotional terms), such as jewelry, cars, and baseball card collections, for example.
Next, decide what you want to achieve with those assets and who you want to inherit them. This is also the time to think about the people you would trust to handle your business affairs and medical care in the event that you become incapacitated.
Once you have some answers to these questions, you are ready to seek the advice and services of one of the attorneys with Aaron J. Goldberg, PLC will help you create an estate plan that is specifically designed to meet your unique needs and goals.