The holiday season is a time when many of us are visiting with loved ones. Gathering with our family provides us with an opportunity to catch up on the events in our lives, but we would suggest it’s also a time to bring up estate planning. This topic can be difficult for people to discuss. No one likes to think about something tragic happening to a family member, especially unexpectedly. Being prepared with a plan can help prepare everyone emotionally and financially.
There are certain documents to ensure your wishes are followed in the event of your incapacity or death.
A Last Will and Testament
A will allows you to name the people you trust to oversee the management and distribution of your assets. It’s also how you can appoint a guardian to care for your minor children. Without a will, your assets will be distributed according to a statutory formula, and a court may decide guardianship for your minor children, which may conflict with your desires. Remember, a will is not set in stone. You can change it as often as you like, and new versions will automatically supersede previous ones.
Trusts are powerful estate planning tools. A trust allows your property to pass to your beneficiaries without going through the lengthy and expensive legal process known as probate. A trust can also shelter your assets from costly estate and gift taxes, allowing you to pass the maximum amount of your assets to beneficiaries. Trusts also help guarantee your assets will be distributed exactly how and when you wish. For example, if you don’t want an heir to receive their inheritance until they turn a certain age, a trust will make sure that happens.
It’s not uncommon for people to assume having a will in place is enough to ensure their assets will pass to their named beneficiaries in the manner they desire. However, certain financial assets, including 401(k) and IRA retirement accounts and life insurance policies, bypass a will or trust’s probate process. Meaning you’ll need to coordinate your beneficiary designations with your estate plan. People can make a lot of mistakes when naming beneficiaries. Each situation is unique; if you have specific questions, we would be happy to meet with you.
A Power of Attorney
A power of attorney (POA) carries a lot of responsibility. This person will manage your finances in the event of your incapacity or death. They will act on your behalf with any company you do business with and make medical treatment decisions on your behalf. There are different power of attorney arrangements such as general power of attorney, special power of attorney, healthcare power of attorney, durable power of attorney and medical power of attorney. Be sure your loved ones know what agreements you’re putting in place and how they fit into them. Planning ahead spares your loved ones from a costly, time-consuming legal process.
A Living Will
A living will, or directive to physicians, is a document that allows you to instruct your wishes in the event you’re diagnosed with a terminal or irreversible condition. The living will specify which actions medical professionals can and can’t take in the event that illness or incapacity has left you unable to decide. Living wills are not the only way to exercise control over your medical care. Using a healthcare proxy or a specific type of power of attorney, you can appoint a trusted person to make decisions on your behalf. It’s not uncommon for people to use a combination of both approaches. Having this document in place can help ease difficult times for your loved ones.
After creating your estate plan, share copies and discuss them with loved ones, including spouses, parents, or children who may be named in the documents as trustees, executors, or guardians. Knowing where to find important legal documents and financial information in the days and weeks following an unexpected event can help reduce stress in a time of crisis. Help your family members avoid mistakes that may be difficult to reverse later.
Continue to update your estate planning documents. Your will may no longer be valid if you’ve recently married, divorced, or entered into a civil partnership. If you’ve gained or lost a significant amount of wealth, you should make sure the provisions in your will are still appropriate. If the person you want to carry out the terms of the will and handle related legal matters has died or moved far away, you will want to name a replacement. Or, if your affairs have become more complex, you may decide a different executor is required. You may wish to add or remove a beneficiary from your will for any reason.
Schedule an Appointment
Creating an estate plan is a critical part of your financial life. For our clients, relief sets in when all their documents are up-to-date. Schedule an appointment to discuss any questions you may have about estate planning topics. You’ll need to consult your attorney for specific questions regarding your will.
** For a comprehensive review of your personal situation, always consult with a tax or legal Advisor. Neither Cetera Investment Services, nor any of its representatives may give legal or tax advice.
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