How Do I Start Estate Planning?
July 21, 2022
The thought of starting the estate planning process can be overwhelming for some. I would also add that I believe in the American culture that most people, myself included, avoid the topic of death and really don't want to think about it. Time moves forward for all of us and before you know it an accident occurs, old age or something else, and we pass away. In a recent poll, close to 70% of Americans have no estate plans in place.
For those that choose to create an estate plan, the first question is where to start. I think an excellent place to start is as Stephen Covey once said, with the end in mind. What is important to you? What assets do you have? Who would you want to receive what, and in what time period? This will create a good foundation for estate planning going forward. if you start with the end in mind then you need to think about what approach you would like to take to ensure that those plans and goals become a reality. there are two paths one can take when it comes to estate planning. The first option uses a will as the vehicle to distribute assets to loved ones. the upside is that a will is relatively straightforward and less expensive than a trust. There are of course downsides. The first is that a will must go through the probate process that involves the court. It can be time-consuming and expensive. Wills can also be easier to contest, one reason being that the process is public. A second option is to use a trust. A main benefit that a trust provides is that it is private, whereas a will takes effect only upon death. A trust and a will also have the ability to distribute assets to loved ones over time or create an additional trust upon death that protect your loved ones against creditors. Irrespective of whether one chooses a will or a trust it is also important to ensure that you have a financial power of attorney, a medical power of attorney, a living will, and a HIPAA authorization. These four documents, plus the will or trust, are the foundational aspects of estate planning.
Once you decide in general how you want to proceed, the next step is to choose whether to go online or work with an attorney. Naturally, I am biased in my response; however, let me clear that an online approach to estate planning may be a good option, if you have essentially no assets and are comfortable with creating your own legal documents. I strongly recommend against using an online service if you have assets, if you decide to create a trust, and especially if you have children. You might create a good plan; however, do you really want to take the risk in case you make a serious mistake? I have been involved in situations where an online service was used incorrectly and the results were an unmitigated disaster - the financial, and more importantly emotional, the damage was significant and could have easily been avoided by using an attorney.
At a minimum, at least seek out a free consultation with an attorney to see what your options are. this is the least you owe yourself and your family. Feel free to call me – happy to chat anytime!
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