Whether you’re drafting your first Will or updating an existing plan, it’s important to work with a trusted estate planning attorney throughout your lifetime. Not only does this ensure your final wishes are documented and all your beneficiaries and heirs are covered, but it also provides you peace of mind knowing your plans are legally sound and properly drafted.
To help you get the most out of your arrangement, here are some things you do and don’t need to discuss with your estate planning attorney.
You DO need a Will.
A Will is a legal document that outlines your wishes regarding your estate. This includes decisions like who gets your property, who will care for minor children, how your financial assets will be distributed, and more. It’s important to have a Will in place at any age to ensure your wishes are granted should something happen to you, and that your beneficiaries do not face any challenges inheriting from your estate.
You DO need powers of attorney.
Thinking about death or incapacitation is scary, but not having a plan in place for who will manage your assets, pay your bills, or make medical decisions for you is even scarier. That’s why every estate plan should include signed financial and medical power of attorney documents.
Without a designated power of attorney (sometimes referred to as your “attorney-in-fact” or your “agent”) to manage your financial affairs and medical decisions (including end-of-life decisions), the courts may be called upon to decide, and they could select a person that you may have never wanted in those roles. It is also far more expensive to go this route than to have powers of attorney drafted and signed in advance—about 10 times more.
You DO need standby guardians for your minor children.
When individuals have children under the age of 18, they need a Designation of Standby Guardian that appoints a trusted friend or family member to care for their child(ren) should both parents pass away or suffer a severe illness or injury that renders them unable to care for the child(ren) themselves. In some states, including Virginia, there is also a special Power of Attorney form now available, but that document only remains in effect for six months at a time, and must be re-executed at the end of the 6 months.
You DON’T always need a trust.
Many people exploring estate planning for the first time are confused about whether they really need a trust. Trusts can be very useful, but they are also very expensive and require additional steps after you sign to fund them or re-title your assets in the name of the Trust.
If your total estate is valued at less than the current federal estate tax exemption of $11.7 million, you don’t necessarily need a trust to shield a portion of your taxable assets (although this exemption amount will eventually be reduced). Moreover, if the beneficiaries of your estate are residents of a state that does not have an inheritance tax, you may then only need a well-
written Last Will and Testament rather than a trust as part of a comprehensive estate plan.
You can also use something called a Revocable Transfer on Death Deed, sometimes called “the poor-man’s trust” to leave real estate you own directly to a loved one without it ever having to pass through a Will or probate.
You DON’T need to add your funeral wishes to your Will.
Many people assume they must include detailed funeral instructions in their estate plans, but this is a common misconception. The probate process typically happens after your funeral and therefore will likely not even be seen by your loved ones in time to make your desired arrangements. However, you should still discuss your wishes with your family or loved ones during your lifetime. Common points to cover include whether you want a funeral service; if so, where it will be held; who should be notified about your death; whether you want to be cremated or buried; etc.
Contact a trusted estate planning attorney for guidance.
If you do not have a valid Will or your current estate plans are more than five years old, we strongly recommend that you meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to set them in place immediately. You never know when illness or an accident will strike, nor do you know the impact it will have on your family or children if you have no plan or an outdated plan in place.
Looking for legal advice or documents needed to ensure your estate’s security? Schedule a free consultation with the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor for more information