Beginning the process of estate planning can be overwhelming. There is a world of terms, products, and prices, and understanding and choosing between the different options can be a daunting challenge. Let me walk you through the three most important questions, and hopefully take some of the mystery away.
Define your goals
You may not necessarily know exactly what legal pitfalls await you and your family, but you undoubtedly want to avoid all of them! Typical estate planning goals include providing for your families long term financial security, avoiding probate, reducing or eliminating estate taxes, passing on a business, or determining who will receive a particular item. Sometimes parents can use their estate plan to encourage their children to save and invest. Potentially there are special circumstances that require extra planning, like providing for a child with special needs.
Decide who your beneficiaries are
Not every family fits the defaults created by statute. You may also wish to consider organizations and causes you support as beneficiaries. Choosing your beneficiaries is a very personal decision that your attorney can’t make for you, but they can help you implement your decision. Part of our job as attorneys is to help make effective backup plans.
Determine who will be in charge
There are lots of important positions to fill in an estate plan: guardians for minor children, successor trustees of living trusts, executors of wills etc. Picking the right person is an important decision. It helps to understand that there are actually three distinct responsibilities: 1) taking care of children, 2) dividing all the assets, and 3) properly managing the assets for the beneficiaries. One person can assume all three of these responsibilities, or they can be divided among different people, or sometimes multiple people. Sometimes the person who would be the best parent is not necessarily the best person to manage the money. Some of these questions can be difficult to answer because of your unique circumstances. Just remember, if you don’t make these decisions, your family, and more likely, the court will have to make the same decision, often with less information than you have, and at a higher cost.