It’s been said in many different ways throughout human history, and has become one of those truisms that most people simply take for granted: all men have an eventual appointment with death. Women too, for that matter. Most people prefer not to spend much time thinking about such things, but there are times when the subject simply cannot be avoided. Take end of life strategies, for example. If you want to ensure that you leave your loved ones an inheritance, or provide for your children or disabled family members, then you need to have a plan in place to fulfill those wishes when you pass from this life. When it comes to developing such a strategy, it is essential that you understand the top ten estate planning tips.
- Write a will
Naturally, this item always comes first when people are considering end of life strategies. As frustrating as probate can be for families that have to go through it, the situation will be even more cumbersome if you die intestate. To prevent that, you need to have a legally enforceable will that directs the distribution of your assets, details who you want to care for your children, and eliminates any doubt about your wishes.
- Get Your Documents in Order
Proper estate planning does more than deal with your death; it can also help manage your affairs in the event that you are rendered unable to do so. So, in addition to your will and testament, you should also have important documents like advance directives, release-of-information forms, and a power of attorney. That way, if you become disabled or otherwise incapacitated, your designated agent or agents can manage things for you.
- Plan Ways to Avoid Probate
Probate can be unpredictable. At times, an estate’s executor has only to pay fees and fill out forms to settle the process. At other times, the process can take months and prove very costly in terms of time, attention, and money. Probate is also a public process that strips away any pretense of privacy you might have otherwise enjoyed with respect to how you managed your bequests. Wills, trusts, and arranged bank and insurance asset transfers can help your loved ones avoid those issues.
- Plan for Everything
A lot can happen before your death. You could lose your job, become disabled, or otherwise need access to funds outside your normal income. You’ll most definitely want to retire at some point. While you are planning for how your estate is managed after you die, don’t forget to include emergency funds and other contingency plans that may yet be needed while you are alive.
- Life Insurance
Take care of your surviving loved ones by obtaining life insurance coverage that will provide your family with sustenance in the event of your death. Make sure that your policy has enough coverage to take care of your debts – including the mortgage and any other loans, provide for major financial needs like college for the children, and ensure a healthy annual income.
- Utilize Trusts
Don’t underestimate the power of a trust. A living trust (otherwise known as a revocable grantor trust) can help you to avoid probate and reduce your tax burden. This arrangement retitles your assets so that they are not in your own name, while still allowing you the ability to maintain the control over them that you need. Upon your death, those assets are delivered to your heirs in accordance with your expressed wishes, and without the need for probate proceedings.
- Plan Your Own Funeral
Gone are the days when we publicly mourn the loss of a loved one without celebrating the life they lived. These days, the tone of many funerals tends to be more upbeat and reflective, as friends and family gather to remember how the deceased lived rather than grieve over what all assembled have lost. If you want your passing to be marked with a celebration, be sure to document your wishes so that your send-off better reflects the life you enjoyed.
- Personally Direct Bequests
If you’ve ever been party to an inheritance dispute after a loved one passes away, then you know how complicated and emotionally disruptive such a controversy can be. At times, arguments over who gets what can lead to the type of conflict that can create schisms that take years to heal. You can help your loved ones avoid that by carefully detailing your bequests in a signed document that can be updated by you at any time. That can eliminate any confusion or debate about your intentions.
- Choose How Your Remains Will Be Handled
When it comes to disposing of our dead, human beings have always had a variety of options from which to choose. Even today, you are by no means limited to a standard funeral when you pass. If you have a particular way that you would prefer your remains be handled, be sure to plan ahead and provide your family with the authorization needed. While burial tends to be a fairly simple process for family members to manage, cremation could entail multiple survivors all signing off on consent. By completing an authorization for cremation now, you can spare your family that task later.
- Take Care of Disabled Family Members
If you have disabled children, they may have special needs that must be taken care of after you pass away. A Special Needs Trust can be established that will help to provide for your children even after you are no longer around to do so yourself. Remember always that those children’s well-being will be left to the tender mercies of the court system if you fail to adequately deal with these issues before death. Perhaps most important, using a Special Needs Trust can help to ensure that your disabled loved ones don’t lose access to any government benefits they might be entitled to by virtue of law.
Of course, even with these top 10 estate planning tips taken into account, there are other things that you will need to do as well. You will need to somehow remain up to date on statutory requirements in this area of law, and modify your plan as your life circumstances change. Even minor errors in your estate planning strategy can have tremendous impact on your surviving family members, and potentially delay or alter your planned estate distribution. At Robert Kulas Attorneys at Law, we can help you ensure that your estate plan meets these important needs. Contact us today to find out more!