Understanding Estate Planning and Its Advantages

If you’re like the majority of Americans, you don’t have an estate plan. According to a Law Depot poll from 2023, 73% of respondents had no estate plan. Furthermore, 72% of respondents over 75 didn’t know what was an estate plan.

Unfortunately, estate planning is an easy process to put off. Nobody likes thinking about death or what happens before or after death. 

However, as much as you despise the idea of death, you don’t want to subject your family to hours and days of dealing with the mess that a lack of forethought would cause.

Losing a close member is easier enough with the additional and quite avoidable complications that arise in the absence of estate preparation. 

Cleaning up a neglected estate is both time-consuming and costly. That is why focusing on the benefits of estate planning for you and your loved ones may be what you need to design and finalize an estate plan or update an existing plan.

What estate planning entails

Estate planning entails creating and executing the documents required to handle your health care and financial affairs if you become incompetent or die. To attain this purpose, you need to prepare several documents. The names of the specific documents vary depending on where you live, but the purpose is the same.

The common documents you need include:

Guardianship. If you have minor children or other dependents, these documents state who will have custody of your children if you and your spouse die.

Trust. A fiduciary agreement that protects your estate from probate while also allowing you to personalize your estate plan.

A durable power of attorney. A legal instrument that permits your spouse, partner, or another third party to manage your finances if you cannot make decisions for yourself.

Financial power of attorney. A legal document that authorizes a third party to manage your financial affairs.

Advanced health care directive. A document outlining the medical care you wish to receive if you cannot make your own decisions.

Health care Power of attorney. A document that gives a third person the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf.

Authorization under HIPAA. A document that allows people to access your medical records and contact your doctors.

Before you create these documents, you need to do some work. You must inventory your assets and select who will inherit them when you die.

You also must select who will care for your minor children, if you have any, and who you can rely on to manage your financial and medical affairs if you become disabled.

To ensure the necessary forms are properly executed, you should employ an experienced estate planning attorney familiar with your state’s estate laws. That person will collaborate with you to interpret your wishes into the necessary documentation.

That is a lot of expensive labor, which explains why many people do not have estate plans. But don’t let that discourage you. This is because there are plenty of advantages to creating an estate plan. They include:

You secure your health and finances.

Nobody wants to think of becoming incapacitated. However, it does occur, particularly among the elderly. According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2023 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts & Figures report, over 6.7 million Americans aged 65 and over have Alzheimer’s disease, with 73% being 75 or older.

Columbia University researchers also discovered that 10% of persons over 65 had dementia, including Alzheimer’s, and another 22% had mild cognitive impairment.

Other diseases and illnesses affect older persons more frequently as they age. According to the National Institute of Health, 85% of Americans aged 65 and over have at least one chronic health condition, and 60% have two chronic health issues.

Cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes are examples. While you may not experience cognitive impairment as you age, a confluence of chronic diseases can deplete your energy and capacity to reason and think coherently.

That is why preparing an estate plan where your family or other designated individuals can step in if necessary is critical. For example, you could have a stroke and require someone else to make medical decisions.

Without the essential paperwork, vital medical care may be delayed, resulting in bad results that could have been prevented if the proper information had been available.

In the long run, you may need assistance paying your expenses and making financial decisions. Unfortunately, when memory decreases, many older persons become victims of financial fraud.

Having someone you trust as a sounding board for your decision-making process might help prevent occurrences that can drain your money and cause financial problems.

You fulfill your wishes.

If you die without an estate plan or will, your assets will be dispersed according to the laws of your state. This is referred to as dying intestate. For example, suppose you want your spouse to inherit everything and your children to inherit whatever is left after your partner dies.

In some states, if you die without a will, your spouse inherits half of your possessions, and your descendants inherit the rest.

Another potential issue frequently arises: if you remember to amend a will you prepared years ago, your assets may be dispersed correctly.

Many times, people write a will when their children are young and then neglect to update it. Your life condition may have altered, but your will may not have.

Consider this: you may be divorced, yet your first spouse is still named in your will. If this is the case, you should contact an estate planning lawyer Upper Marlboro to get it updated.

There are numerous other instances in which an estate plan should be updated. Perhaps you sold a business, and a simple will no longer suffice; a trust may be required.

You should speak with an expert estate planning attorney who will help you choose the best vehicle to ensure your desires are fulfilled after your death.

You Avoid Probate

Probate is the legal process of recognizing a will and administering an estate. Probate can take place on a city or county level, depending on the jurisdiction.

All documents involved in probate, including a will, are public records and can be found on the internet with a simple search. Probate requires fees and, in some cases, lawyers. While going through probate without a lawyer is possible, it is a time-consuming and complicated process.

When you have a will as part of the estate planning documents, you avoid the costs and headache that comes with probate.

Tips to Protecting Your Kids and Ensuring They Get Your Property When You Are Gone

As much as you love your kids and would love them to have a great life even in your absence, this is not always the case. This is because the assets end up in the hands of creditors and other people resulting in your children ending up poor.

Thankfully, there are several things you can do to ensure that your kids are safe. Some of the things you can do include:

Don’t leave assets directly to the kids.

Instead of having the assets in your kids’ name, you should have them under an asset protection trust (APT).

A trust deed, which describes the Trust’s terms and conditions, establishes the Trust. It appoints a trustee to manage the trust assets, which can be a family member, a trusted friend, or a professional fiduciary.

The trust deed lays forth how the assets will be managed and dispersed. The Trust may specify that the assets be used for the children’s education, healthcare, upkeep, or any other specific needs until they reach a certain age or milestone, such as turning 18 or finishing their education.

One of the primary advantages of an asset protection trust is that it protects assets from possible creditors. When assets are placed in a trust, they are no longer regarded as the parents’ or children’s assets and are protected from creditors seeking to collect on obligations.

Before settling on a trust, consult an experienced trust and estate planning attorney. They will assist you in navigating the legal requirements, selecting the proper trust structure, and ensuring compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

For the best outcome, clearly define your goals for developing the Trust. Determine the assets you want to safeguard, the level of control you want to maintain, and the Trust’s intended beneficiaries.

You also should choose a reliable Trustee: Choose a trustee who is trustworthy, knowledgeable, and understands fiduciary obligations. The trustee must act in the beneficiaries best interests and follow the trust deed’s directions.

Make use of a revocable living trust (RLT)

An RLT is a legal document that specifies how your assets will be managed after your death.

Property, bank accounts, investments, and other goods are some items you can include in the Trust.

These trusts are made while you are still alive, and you can revoke them at any point as the trust maker.

There are various advantages for children if an RLT is implemented. They are as follows:

  • Able to avoid probate, which can be a lengthy and time-consuming process.
  • It will be less expensive than probate, allowing your beneficiary to inherit more.
  • Provide additional privacy because RLT details are normally restricted from being entered into public records.

Properly fund the revocable living trust to reap the most benefits. This entails transferring ownership of assets into the Trust’s name, such as real estate, bank accounts, investments, and other valuable property.

If you are doing this for the first time, consult with your attorney to ensure all necessary processes are followed to transfer assets properly.

Always remember that the Trust isn’t a set-and-forget thing—you need to review it regularly to verify it is up to date and in accordance with your wishes.

For example, birth, deaths, marriages, and divorces may need the Trust’s provisions to be modified. Consult with your attorney regularly to make any required changes.

Hold your property in a Limited Liability Company (LLC)

One of the most significant advantages of creating an LLC is the restricted liability protection it gives. Putting your property in an LLC creates a barrier between your and LLC’s assets. In the event of a property-related lawsuit or liability claim, your assets are usually protected from being taken to satisfy the LLC’s debts or legal responsibilities.

Begin by forming a separate LLC for each property you want to protect. Consult with an attorney to ensure that the LLC is legally created and complies with the legal laws and rules of the state where the property is located.

This usually entails submitting the required formation documents, paying fees, and creating an operating agreement.

Obtaining suitable insurance coverage for your LLC’s property is always wise. Consult an insurance professional to examine the risks associated with your property and ensure you have appropriate coverage for potential liabilities, property damage, and other situations.

Don’t let your family go through probate.

Protecting your family from the probate process is putting in place strategies to ensure that your assets flow smoothly and quickly following your death to your loved ones.

Besides having Trust, there are plenty of other ways you can go about it.

One of the ways is having Transfer-On-Death (TOD) and Pay-On-Death (POD) Designations. Certain assets, such as bank or brokerage accounts, may be designated as POD or TOD in some states. These designations allow you to name beneficiaries who will get your assets outside probate upon death.

You also should maintain an up-to-date Will. While a will usually necessitates probate, having an up-to-date and detailed will is still essential. It lets you indicate your desires for asset distribution and choose guardians for small children. A well-drafted will can aid in the probate procedure and provide clarity for your family.

You also should consult an estate planning lawyer Bowie who can assist you in creating a thorough estate plan suited to your needs.

They will walk you through the process, explain the rules in your jurisdiction, and ensure your estate plan includes measures to avoid probate and safeguard your family’s interests.

There you have it.

As you have seen, there are plenty of ways to protect your kids and ensure they always get the property you have always worked hard for and want to give them.

Remember that as a parent, you should never risk dying, being incapacitated, or being sued if you don’t have a plan for your children.

You should never leave your child dealing with more than just the trauma of your death and, at the same time, trying to navigate clearing financial assets and commitments without the necessary documentation or understanding.

Always have a plan in place.