Estate planning helps survivors manage and distribute an estate according to the elder’s wishes. With early organization, survivors have full knowledge of assets and how to access important documents.
If you have any assets (house, car, bank accounts etc.) and you do not have an estate plan, you will be considered to have died “intestate”. In that case, your assets will be distributed by a court according to state laws. This will take time and money and be burdensome to your survivors. It may create disputes and unpleasantness within the family. If you want your assets to be distributed according to your wishes, you need to consult an attorney and generate an Estate Plan.
There are two most common types of Estate Planning documents: one based on a Last Will and Testament and another based usually on a Revocable Living Trust. A Will is generally filed in a Court after death and may be subject to a probate procedure that involves time and expenses. A Revocable Living Trust usually specifies a Survivor Trustee who is given the power to manage your assets immediately upon your death. You should discuss with an Estate attorney the pros and cons of each type (and other possibilities) and prepare and execute an Estate Plan that is best for you.
In addition to the Last Will and Testament or the Trust, either type of Estate Plan generally includes three other documents:
- An Advance Medical Directive that designates a person to make medical decisions for you in case you are unable to make them yourself. It is also called a Medical Power of Attorney.
- A Living Will that specifies instructions to your physician, health care providers, and family members as to whether or not you want to receive life-sustaining procedures if you reach a terminal condition, or a permanent vegetative state.
- A Financial Power of Attorney that designates a person you fully trust to manage, if you are incapacitated, assets that are titled in your individual name such as a retirement account (IRA) or bank account.
Some of the assets where a beneficiary is specified or implied are known as non-probate assets and pass on to the beneficiary outside of the Will. If an Estate Plan is based on a Revocable Living Trust, all the assets (except IRAs) should be preferably in the name of the Trust. A Trust based plan also usually includes a document called Pour-Over-Will for the purpose of moving into the Trust any asset that is not included in the Trust.
You should consult an attorney and/or a tax advisor in deciding on and preparing an Estate Plan and have the information included in an Estate Data Organizer.