Only 35% of Americans have their estate plan completed, either with a will or trust. Therefore, over 6 out of every 10 people reading this have not done any planning! Instead, they have decided to let the government do their planning. Not a good idea.
For those putting off planning, you've likely been talking about planning for a while now and keep pushing it off. Being in this profession, I see way too many unfortunate circumstances where planning was not done before time was up. It is vital to put at least a basic plan in place today. Here is what you need to at least get started:
- Last Will & Testament: The will is the document that lists your wishes after you pass. You will names your executor, the person who handles your estate, lists who the beneficiaries are (a beneficiary is the person who receives property from you), and lists any immediate family members that you have disinherited. It can also name a guardian for minor children, and list your wishes on whether you want cremation or not. Wills can be more advanced, and can include provisions such as setting up testamentary trusts so that all assets are not immediately distributed. You must have a will. If you don't, the government has what's called an intestate/intestacy statute that lists in detail who in your family will take property. You will have no control, and neither will your heirs!
- Financial Power of Attorney: This document controls all of your non-medical affairs when you become disabled or incapacitated. Sometimes it is more important than having a will. These must be updated every few years or so because some institutions, such as banks, investment houses, etc, will say they are "stale" if more than 5-10 years old. This is a powerful document, giving your agent (the person who acts on behalf of you) the power to manage your assets, property, businesses, accounts, etc. It also may give your agent the ability to handle your retirement accounts (be careful with this) and to make gifts (also another one to be careful about). You can also use this document to appoint a guardian for yourself or for your children during your incapacity.
- Medical Power of Attorney / Living Will: In Pennsylvania, the medical/health care power of attorney and living will can be combined into one document. The power of attorney controls while you are alive but disabled. The living will controls at the end of life phase when there is no realistic hope of recovery. This document gives the person acting on behalf of you to speak with your doctors, hire and fire your doctors, tell the doctors what to do based on your wishes, etc.
These documents are only a start to a solid estate plan. Estate planning requires a lot of thought and analysis, and takes into consideration you, your family, the legacy you want to leave and the assets that you currently own. More advanced estate planning can often be necessary to save taxes, probate fees and provide asset protection.
Finally, if you already have a basic estate plan, make sure to update it at least every five years, if not sooner.
Please contact our firm today if we may be of assistance. We can provide an economical basic estate plan that will be the foundation of a sound estate plan. Inquire about our outstanding services today.