Estate planning is an important process that everyone should undertake, regardless of their age, health, or wealth. Having an estate plan in place ensures your assets and wishes are handled properly in the event of your incapacity or death. It also spares your loved ones the stress and expenses of trying to figure everything out on their own during an already difficult time.
Consulting with an estate planning attorney early on can help you create a comprehensive plan that is legally sound, provides for your loved ones, and gives you peace of mind. Here are some of the top reasons why you should make estate planning a priority and work with a lawyer at Hammond Law Group sooner rather than later.
Distribute Assets According to Your Wishes
One of the main goals of estate planning is to ensure your assets are distributed according to your wishes when you die. Without proper planning in place, your assets will be divided according to state intestacy laws, which may not align with your intentions. For instance, you may want your assets split unevenly between children, given to charity, or held in trust for grandchildren. Working with an estate planning attorney allows you to craft legal documents that clearly outline your intentions and ensure they are fulfilled.
Provide for Your Family
A thoughtfully crafted estate plan is one of the greatest gifts you can leave your family. The right documents can provide financial resources, assign guardians for minor children, and give instructions for your care if you become incapacitated. An estate planning lawyer can help you evaluate your family’s needs and create a plan that provides for them even when you are no longer able. This gives you peace of mind, knowing your family will be looked after.
Avoid Family Disputes
Without clear legal documentation of your wishes, you risk leaving your family in dispute over your estate. Family dynamics are complex, and things can get ugly when some members feel assets are not being distributed fairly. An unclear estate plan often leaves room for disagreements and bitter feuds. Working with a lawyer allows you to make legally binding decisions about asset distribution and other wishes, preventing messy conflicts down the road.
There are certain assets that pass outside probate, including life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and some trusts. Without documented beneficiaries, these assets may be paid to unintended recipients or tied up in court. An estate planning attorney can help you designate proper beneficiaries and assign contingent beneficiaries in case your primary choices are unavailable. Getting the beneficiaries right on key assets keeps them out of probate and gets them where you want.
Establish Powers of Attorney
A durable power of attorney allows you to assign someone you trust to handle financial and legal matters if you become incapacitated. A healthcare power of attorney (also called a healthcare proxy) allows you to name someone to make medical decisions according to your wishes if you cannot do so yourself. These documents are invaluable if you become unable to manage your affairs. An estate planning lawyer can make sure they comply with state laws and accurately reflect your wishes.
Create a Living Will
Also called an advance healthcare directive, a living will provides instructions for end-of-life medical care if you are unable to communicate your wishes. This document gives you a say in important decisions like life-support measures and organ donation. A lawyer can make sure your living will complies with laws and ensure healthcare providers and loved ones know your wishes regarding difficult end-of-life care decisions.
Choose Guardians Thoughtfully
If you have minor children or dependents with special needs, one of the most important estate planning tasks is selecting guardians to care for them if you pass away. This is an extremely personal decision that should be made thoughtfully with an attorney’s guidance. The lawyer can also draft a will and trust that provides financial resources and instructions to support those you name as guardians.
Provide for Your Pets
For many people, pets are part of the family. Yet, in the eyes of the law, pets are property, so you cannot leave money directly to them. An estate planning lawyer can help you set up a pet trust that provides for your pets and appoints someone reliable to manage the funds and care for your animals if you die before they do.
Protect Your Privacy
Estate proceedings become a matter of public record after you pass away. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you structure your estate in ways that protect privacy, such as using a revocable living trust as the main vehicle for distribution rather than a will filed in probate court. Keeping the details of your estate private may be important for many personal reasons.
Reduce Estate Taxes
If your estate exceeds federal or state estate tax exclusion amounts, your beneficiaries may owe substantial taxes on their inheritance. But with the help of an estate planning lawyer, you can take advantage of exemptions like portability between spouses and set up trusts to help minimize estate taxes and maximize what beneficiaries receive.
Probate is the court-supervised process of authenticating your will and authorizing the executor to carry out its terms. It can be costly, public, and time-consuming for your loved ones. Proper estate planning aims to minimize assets that must go through probate. Your attorney can help you set up vehicles like living trusts and joint ownership arrangements to pass many assets directly to heirs while avoiding the probate process.
Protect Special Needs Benefits
If you have a beneficiary or dependent with special needs, extra planning is needed to avoid jeopardizing government benefits like Medicaid and SSI. RULE: You may want to setup a special needs trust, for example. An experienced estate planning lawyer can help you establish estate plans that provide for special needs beneficiaries without compromising essential government assistance.
Cover Funeral and Medical Expenses
By planning in advance with a lawyer’s assistance, you can make arrangements to cover your remaining funeral medical expenses in order to avoid burdening your family. This may involve setting up an irrevocable funeral trust or purchasing a small life insurance policy to cover final expenses. Planning for these costs now can save loved ones money and difficulty later on.
Pick an Executor and Trustees
Serving as an executor of a will or trustee of a trust is a big responsibility. These roles involve extensive work and time commitments settling your estate. Carefully choose people to fill these roles and discuss your wishes with them in advance. An estate planning lawyer can help you make sure your chosen executor, trustees, and beneficiaries understand their responsibilities.
Obtain Peace of Mind
Knowing you have made thorough plans for your estate provides immense peace of mind. The right estate plan ensures your loved ones will be provided for and your assets will go where you want – it’s an act of love and generosity. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney at Hammond Law Group in Colorado Springs gives you confidence your wishes will be carried out properly when the time comes. You can rest easy knowing planning is handled.