Planning Your Estate
We come into this life with nothing, but as time goes by, we acquire relationships and property. We start out with our family of origin, our parents and siblings. Later there may be a spouse and children. We become educated. We acquire property, often including a home and perhaps other real estate as well.
What is “Estate Planning”?
“Estate Planning” refers to the formal process of organizing our affairs to provide for the exigencies of life. Who will care for my family if I should become disabled and am no longer able to do so? Who will care for me? What will happen to my family if I die unexpectedly? Who will inherit my property? Who will see that my wishes are fulfilled?
Many people avoid dealing with issues involving wills and estate planning because of the apparent complexity of the subject matter. While it is true that estate planning is complicated and involves many disciplines, an organized approach can greatly simplify the process of planning ones estate. Why should you do an estate plan?
Ten Reasons to Plan Your Estate:
- With your estate plan, you can:
- Provide support and financial stability for your surviving spouse, children, and grandchildren
- Set and meet expectations of your survivors so there is no confusion or misunderstanding
- Make sure your wishes are carried out if you can no longer manage your affairs. It’s important to have both powers of attorney and a living will
- Minimize taxes and expenses that can go along with transferring assets
- Provide enough cash to meet expenses and prevent the forced sale of assets
- Preserve your wealth for later generations
- Support a favorite charity or cause with a gift of money, securities or other property
- Distribute assets in a timely fashion, with a minimum of legal hassle
- Avoid problems for your loved ones by ensuring that the beneficiaries named on your life insurance, retirement plans and other financial accounts are still the people you want to benefit
- Protect your family’s privacy with an estate plan designed to prevent your will from becoming public record
Expect the unexpected!
Omaha, Nebraska estate planning authority, attorney Tom Whitmore, consults with and advises clients as to the best way to document their wishes for handling their affairs should they become disabled or pass away. We prepare wills, trusts, and related documents such as durable powers of attorney, health care directives, and living wills to implement their plans.
Where to Begin
Begin with a clear statement of your goals and objectives. Is your principle concern providing for the care of minor children? Who do you want to receive your property at death? What is the best way to provide for a surviving spouse? Is there a business interest or other property that needs special consideration? What is the best way to minimize inheritance taxes? What about disability?
Once you have thought through your goals, it is time to select the advisers who will assist you in the planning process. Often an attorney is the central figure in the planning process, but you may wish to consult a trusted financial adviser or accountant, particularly if a business is involved. Insurance professionals have many resources that can be helpful in tax planning and estimating cash needs of your estate or for a business buy-out.
Your Personal Information
Personal information about you and your spouse and children needs to be provided to your attorney to assist in planning your estate. Your assets need to be listed and valued, and decisions need to be made about your choices for your personal representative and, where applicable, a trustee and a guardian for any minor children. We have a worksheet elsewhere on this site to assist you in gathering the specific information about your assets and other affairs needed for planning. To obtain a copy of our worksheet, please follow this Link: Estate Planning Questionnaire.
The Initial Meeting
The formal process usually begins with a call to your attorney to schedule the initial conference. At that meeting, you will review your personal and financial information and discuss your goals with your planner. Tax and insurance aspects of your estate will be evaluated and discussed, and you can normally expect to receive a recommendation as to the general form that your plan will take.
One of the goals of the estate planner is to avoid probate of your estate upon death, if that is possible. Not every estate needs to go through the costly and time consuming process of probate. Often for smaller estates, probate can be avoided altogether by the use of “pay on death” accounts and joint tenancies. In these cases, a will is prepared, but it probably will not be entered into probate, unless the estate needs to be opened for other reasons, such as claims arising from an accidental death. In more complex situations, the attorney may recommend a so-called “living trust” to avoid probate.
Trusts are also often used as part of a plan in order to accomplish complex instructions or as a means to provide for minor children and other beneficiaries with special needs. Trusts are used in larger estates to minimize the estate tax burden, which can be as high as 55%. In some cases, charitable trusts are desired. Of course, consideration is given to life insurance and liquidity needs as part of the planning process.
For families who are caring for a child or other family member who may have special needs because of a disability, the Special Needs Trust is a key ingredient in the planning solution. A properly drawn Special Needs Trust can provide a repository for inheritances and gifts that are intended to benefit the family member with special needs, while protecting access to important government programs and providing a life-long support system.
After the structure of the plan is decided upon, the next step in the process is document preparation. Your attorney may provide you with other useful instruments besides the will and any trust documents, which may include:
- Durable Power of Attorney. You name a person to act on your behalf should you become disabled and unable to deal with your business and financial affairs. For more information, please see Power of Attorney.
- Health Care Power of Attorney. You name one or more persons to make all health care decisions for you should you at any time be unable to communicate your wishes to health care providers. If you have strong feelings about any medical procedures that might be suggested, you may include written directions as to your desires. For more information, please see Health Care Directives.
- Living Will. You state your intentions with respect to extraordinary health measures to be taken should you become comatose or have an irreversible condition that requires life support treatment. Also called a Health Care Directive.
When all of the documents have been prepared and approved by you, a final conference is held in the attorney’s office for the formal execution of the will and other instruments. Arrangements can be made at the final conference to attend to any needed changes in the title to your assets, instructions to your bank and financial planner and other details that need attention.
You may be a do-it-yourselfer when it comes to other aspects of your financial life, but estate planning is one area where it’s smart to get professional help. Among other things, the process can entail preparing a will, creating trusts, naming beneficiaries for insurance policies and retirement accounts, selective use of Pay On Death designations, and selecting guardians for minor children. In addition, some families need to plan to minimize estate taxes.
Given the complexities, you’ll want to work with a qualified estate planning attorney. Depending on your situation, you may also find it helpful to work with other professionals, including a financial planner or investment manager, a trust officer, an insurance agent, or an accountant. Keep in mind, though, that the attorney must be the one who drafts your estate planning documents.
Estate planning involves some of your most personal information, so it’s important that you and your family are comfortable with the professionals assisting you.
Omaha, Nebraska estate planning authority, attorney Tom Whitmore, consults with and advises clients as to the best way to document their wishes for handling their affairs should they become disabled or pass away. We prepare wills, trusts, and related documents such as durable powers of attorney, health care directives, living wills and transfer on death deeds to implement their plans.
To get started, just call or send an email to Whitmore Law Office for a no charge, no obligation consultation.
Don’t Procrastinate any longer!