Taking the time to learn about estate planning is one of the kindest gifts you can give to family and other loved ones. While no one wants to think about their own mortality, most people find great comfort and peace of mind once their affairs are in order. This is one task that you shouldn’t put off any longer, and you might be surprised by how comfortable the team at Easler Law makes the process. Keep reading to understand the value of thinking ahead!
What is estate planning?
You have an estate – really! It consists of everything you own: property, bank accounts, cars and/or other vehicles, life insurance policies, furniture, etc. At its core, estate planning is making arrangements for what happens to those things when you die – who gets what, who is responsible for distributing it – and taking steps to maximize those assets by reducing tax liabilities. It’s a clear roadmap for others to follow to ensure that the decisions you make today are carried out after you’re gone.
Yet estate planning involves even more than that. Today, it means preparing both for the end of a life and for any time when you may not be able to communicate your wishes due to a health emergency, dementia, etc. In addition to drafting a last will and testament, a good estate attorney will sit down with you to discuss a wide range of documents you’ll want to have prepared in the event of a significant life event, including a power of attorney (who will act on your behalf if you are not able to speak for yourself), a living will (what your wishes are for end-of-life medical care), a trust (where you may transfer assets to a trusted third party to manage on your behalf), and more.
Why should everyone have an estate plan?
Not only should everyone have an estate plan, they should have one TODAY. Life is full of uncertainties and, with few exceptions, we all share a common desire to see that our loved ones are provided for. At the very least, we want to reduce their burdens when they are facing a health crisis or a death. There are an unbelievable number of questions that need to be answered during those stressful times of worry or grief, and having an estate plan in place will resolve many of them.
A comprehensive estate plan will even allow you to appoint a healthcare proxy, someone you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf. This one document has the power to relieve any conflict between family members who may have differing opinions on treatment, so it’s important to choose someone who understands your personal preferences.
Preserving wealth for the next generation may be one of the most valuable components of the estate planning process. Your attorney will be able to guide you through all of the available options to protect and distribute your assets and make the most of them by using legal means to reduce tax burdens and other fees.
Estate planning is critical regardless of the size of your estate: you don’t need to be a billionaire to plan ahead. Laying this groundwork is a gift to anyone who will be tasked with caring for you near the end of your life or responsible for sorting out your property and finances after your passing. Making your wishes known will avoid countless potential conflicts, alleviate confusion, and make a difficult time immeasurably less difficult.
What happens if you don’t have an estate plan and you die?
Without a properly executed estate plan in place, you have no control over what happens to your assets when you die. You don’t get a vote: only the government does.
Every state has its own intestacy law, which is a law that determines how your property is distributed among your heirs. There’s a hierarchy of family members, starting with spouses and working its way down the family tree. It does not take account for the quality or closeness of those personal relationships and whether or not you cherish some more than others. And if no surviving relatives can be located, any assets will go back into the state’s coffers.
The process to distribute those assets through the court system may delay their arrival to family members in need. Where minor children are involved, it is the courts that would direct their inheritance (and appoint a guardian if there were no living parent.)
In a similar vein, healthcare decisions while you are incapacitated might fall to someone who doesn’t know what your wishes would be; without an advance directive, or living will, there may not be instructions for medical providers; without a power of attorney, bills might go unpaid and existing assets may be negatively impacted before a guardianship can be established by the courts to supervise the management of your financial affairs.
Don’t leave loved ones in the dark. You have the power to ease the difficulty of a challenging time, demonstrating love and care in a practical way for which they will always be grateful.
How Do I Get Started?
If you’re ready to make your wishes clear so that your family has both invaluable guidance and precious peace, to say nothing of taxes and legal fees that may ultimately be avoided, Easler Law is here to help you. While we know it’s not everyone’s idea of a good time, we find that the majority of our clients walk away from their estate planning meetings feeling better about having checked this important task off their list.
At Easler, we know what questions to ask, what legal documents will benefit you and your family most in the long run, and can advise you on the wide range of options that are available to you. We also understand that every family is different, and that’s why there’s no one size fit all approach to estate planning here.
The best time to go through the estate planning process is yesterday; the next best time is right now. And once your affairs are in order, you can get right back to living your life with the comfort that you’ve done all you can to protect your family.