What is “estate planning,” as a concept? It has been our experience here at the Slaton Schauer Law Firm, PLLC that too many people think that estate planning should consist of nothing more than a basic will. So what is the reality? The truth is that there are many factors to consider when evaluating a client’s needs, and a basic will is not the ideal solution for everyone. Could it be right for you?
Let’s consider some details that are often overlooked, and help you decide what level of estate planning is right for you:
Letter of Final Instruction
If you’re fixing your home, repairing your car, or completing a list of tasks, you need the correct tools for the job. You’ve probably had this experience, right? In the middle of a huge project, you realize that you don’t have everything you need. When it comes to estate planning, you might consider the same logic– “do I have every tool in my toolbox?”
It’s wise to record your wishes in writing with regard to the way you want your assets to be distributed; a clearly written plan can help to prevent squabbling later. At the same time, your executor or trustee will need some additional information to be able to administer your estate.
This information can be passed along as part of a letter of final instruction. Ask yourself what the administrator will need to know, and then write up your letter accordingly. Here are some examples:
One common item to provide your executor in this letter is a list of the individuals that should be notified about your passing. In addition to personal connections, the executor will need contact information for professionals such as your attorney, life insurance agent, accountant, and important religious figures (if you belong to a faith).
You should also provide a list of all the property that will comprise the estate, and your administrator has to know where the properties are located. Your login information for accounts that you manage online (both social media and investments) would be part of the equation, and you should share the location of important documents. If those documents are stored in a safe, don’t forget the combination!
These are a handful of things to think about, but you simply ask yourself what the person will need to do the job and apply common sense.
According to the American Pet Products Association, 67 percent of households in the United States own pets. What about you? If you have a pet, are they included in your estate plan?
Specific inclusion may not be necessary if you’re sure your pet will be properly cared for by other members of your family if you pass away. Unfortunately, many people are not in this position.
Pet ownership can be beneficial for seniors, but longevity– both theirs and ours– is naturally going to be a source of concern. Fortunately, there is a solution, because pet trusts are legal in all 50 states.
If you establish a pet trust, you will name a trustee to administer the trust after you are gone. This can be someone that you are personally acquainted with, and you can alternately use a professional fiduciary like a trust company or the trust department of a bank.
When you draw up the trust, you record instructions with regard to the way you want the pet to be cared for after your passing. The trustee would be legally obligated to make sure that your wishes are carried out.
To account for assets that may remain in the trust after the death of the pet, you name a successor beneficiary. As you can see, a pet trust can allow you to enjoy the benefits of pet ownership with total peace of mind.
Prevent a Guardianship
We all know how common incapacity is with age. In fact, you probably know someone who has faced cognitive decline as they aged. The Alzheimer’s Association tells us that more than 30 percent of the oldest old have contracted that disease, and there are other causes of dementia. When these debilitating ailments strike, they can even render some people unable to manage their own affairs.
If you do not act in advance to name your representatives, the state could appoint a guardian to act on your behalf, and you could become a ward of the estate. No one wants to be in this position, so you should proactively include an incapacity component in your broader estate plan.
You would act as the trustee if you have a living trust, and you can name a disability trustee to assume the role in the event of your incapacity. To name someone to manage property that is not held by a trust, you can execute a durable power of attorney for property.
Another power of attorney should be created to name someone to make medical decisions on your behalf that are not related to the use of life-support. A living will is the document that should be utilized to record your life support preferences.
Because of restrictions that are included in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), doctors must keep patient records confidential. You can give your health care representative the ability to access the records if you sign a HIPAA release.
Schedule a Consultation Today!
Our doors are open if you are ready to work with an Austin area estate planning attorney to put a plan in motion. You can send us a message online to request a consultation appointment, or give us a call at 512-258-9455. We’re here to help!