7 Items To Consider When Doing Your Estate Plan (Shared Article)

By February 5, 2016 December 21st, 2017 Uncategorized

When you meet with your attorney, he or she will guide you through the various choices you will be called upon to make, so that you end up with a set of documents that reflects your intentions. If you want to make this time with your attorney most productive, here are 7 things you can do to prepare. If you are able to put thought into any of these 7 things beforehand, you will be way ahead of the game.

1. Assemble a list of your assets and significant liabilities. This includes your house (and mortgage), bank accounts, investment accounts, business interests, personal belongings with value (e.g., artwork or jewelry), insurance policies on your life and retirement accounts. For each asset on the list, include an estimate of its value or current balance, as well as whether you own the asset in your individual name or in joint name with another person, such as your spouse. Your attorney will want to take a look at this list at the outset of the meeting, if not before, because it is a good starting point for determining which tax strategies could offer you and your family the biggest savings.

2. Consider if there are any personal belongings you want to leave to a particular person. You should think about how you would like to dispose of your things, even if you are convinced that they are not worth much money. Oftentimes, a couple will provide that all of their household furnishings, jewelry, collections, etc., will pass to the surviving spouse when the first spouse dies, and then everything will be divided equally among their children when both of them are gone. Because the sentimental attachment to certain items can be high, consider whether you should be more specific about who should receive those items. Keep in mind that the deepest rifts among adult children can begin with a tug of war over items that have value only to them. If you cannot decide at the time or want to remain flexible to change things over time, you can have a request put in your will that your spouse and/or children deal with your belongings according to any side letter you leave with your will. For this approach to work, though, you must promise yourself you will actually write that side letter.

3. Start to think about who has the skill and willingness to be the personal representative(s). The persons that you name in your will as the personal representatives will be charged with settling the estate following your death. His, her or their duties will include collecting your assets, paying debts, expenses and any taxes that may be due and then distributing the assets as directed by the rest of your estate plan. People usually name their spouse to serve as the personal representative in the first instance. If you decide to do the same, you still need to consider who should act in this capacity if and when both spouses are deceased. You can name more than one person if you like. Whoever you choose, you should also think about a successor in case the first person(s) named cannot act for any reason.

4. Get comfortable with the idea of trusts for your children and grandchildren as an alternative worth considering. You could decide to pay out all of the trust property equally among your children when you (or both you and your spouse) have died. Many individuals and couples choose another approach, however — to divide the trust property into equal shares, with one share being held in trust for each child until the child needs or wants funds. Your estate planning attorney will explain the advantages of this. For example, one compelling advantage is that property held in trust for a beneficiary tends to be insulated from the claims of that beneficiary’s creditors, including a divorcing spouse. If you choose this alternative, the trusts could last throughout your children’s lifetimes. Or, you could provide instead that specific portions of the trust property be distributed outright to your children at certain points in time (e.g., 1/3 at age 30, 1/3 at 35, and the balance at 40). You must also consider how you would want your property handled if one of your children predeceases you, leaving young children of his or her own.

5. Start to think about who has the skill and judgment to be the trustees. As with the appointment of personal representatives, the person or persons that you name as trustees of your revocable trusts following your death may be family members, friends and/or professionals.  If your children are relatively young and/or you decide to provide for grandchildren, the trusts could last many, many years. You may want to consider naming an institutional trustee (such as a law firm or bank) so that you will be sure there will be continuity of management. The trustee is responsible for managing the assets and making sound distribution decisions, so there will be adequate resources to meet your spouse’s and/or your children’s needs after you are gone.

6. Decide who should make medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated. The health care proxy, along with the power of attorney, is an important component in planning for incapacity. In the health care proxy, you name an agent to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so. Give some thought to the person who should have that responsibility, along with a successor to him or her.

7. Decide who should take care of your financial affairs if you cannot. The power of attorney is similar to the health care proxy, except that you are appointing a person or persons to act as your agent with regard to your financial matters during your lifetime. The power of attorney can take effect only when you are incapacitated or it can become effective immediately after you sign it (for instance, the power of attorney may be useful if your spouse is away and you need to sign on his or her behalf).

The purpose of this list is not to overwhelm you with decisions or delay you crossing this item off your to-do list. If you get stuck on any of them, know that your estate planning attorney will explain all of these things and the different options available to you when you sit down with him or her. Instead, this list is meant to get your thinking started while you have the luxury of time – in the days and weeks before the meeting – to reflect on these issues, so the ultimate result is exactly what you set out to achieve.

This excellent article is shared from an article published by Nutter McClennen & Fish, LLP with offices in Boston, MA. The link to the article is as follows: 7 Ways To Prepare for Your Estate Planning Meeting

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About Matt Leonard

Matthew J. Leonard, Esq. has devoted his practice to handling the legal needs of individuals and their business interests through all stages of life. As an attorney with the law firm of Salter McGowan Sylvia & Leonard, Inc., he has been engaged to handle matters from basic to sophisticated involving Estate Planning, Elder Law, Medicaid Planning, Probate, Trust and Estate Administration, Real Estate, Business Transactions, Business Creation and related litigation.