It’s hard to think about planning for retirement when you’re 16 or 18 – or even 30. It’s even harder to think about what will happen after your gone. So, it makes sense that many people want to put off estate planning until they have, well, an estate – and that even people with substantial assets might not want to think about a future without them in it.
The truth is, as much as no one likes to think about it, we only get a finite amount of time on this planet, and we don’t really know how much of that time will be spent in good health. That’s why you want to start creating an estate plan as soon as you have any assets at all. Or, as U.S. News & World Report puts it, “Even the young and broke need to be thinking about how their assets will be distributed in the event of a tragedy.”
Taking your first steps
Once you decide to start an estate plan, you need to make a few decisions:
- Who will be your decision maker, in the event that you become unable to make your own decisions?
- What kind of healthcare do you want to receive in the event of an accident or illness? And what about your long-term care?
- Who should inherit your assets in the event of your death?
- Who will take care of your children if something happens to you and your spouse?
The decision maker. The people who make decisions on your behalf are granted Powers of Attorney. Unless you have a Will that says otherwise, the PoA allows one (or more) trusted individuals to make decisions on your behalf. This could amount to handling your bills, selling off your property, or giving out charitable contributions (to name but a few roles).
Your end-of-life plan and healthcare. A healthcare PoA is a specific kind of document, which grants one person control over medical decisions. He or she will make sure your wishes are followed out while you are unable to make them. He or she might also ensure that your decisions about life support and DNRs (Do Not Resuscitate documents) are also followed.
Your inheritance. The best thing you can do to ensure that your money and assets go where you want them to, is to draft a Will and/or Trust. You can specify what percentage of your assets will go where, how your property should be divided and or sold, or who gets to keep your collection of baseball cards. This distribution is handled by the executor of your estate.
Your children. One of the most important things parents can do is name a guardian for their children. Even if you have little to no assets, a Will can outline who will care for your kids, so that there’s never a time when they’re not with someone who will love and support them.
Why you need to see an estate planning attorney
There are a lot of DIY estate planning documents out there, and you might be tempted to save a few dollars and go it alone. We do not recommend this, for a few different reasons.
First of all, the laws regarding taxes, inheritance, asset and debt distribution, etc. are complex and nuanced. Just like you wouldn’t try to rebuild your car engine without any experience, you shouldn’t try to create your own estate plan without guidance. If you miss something important, or make a mistake, your estate could end up in probate for months or even years.
Second of all, your assets and debts will change over time. When you work with an attorney, you know that any updates to your Will, to your PoAs, or to any trusts or accounts you’ve set up will be recorded accurately and efficiently. Furthermore, you’ll know that the changes were done in full accordance with the law, so everything is, as they say, on the up and up.
Finally, and perhaps this is most important, the outline we gave you above is a really simplified version of what an estate plan entails. Much more goes into planning for the future, and you may find yourself face-to-face with some difficult decisions. By working with an experienced Maryville estate planning lawyer, you know that your questions will be answered honestly, and that any potential pitfalls will be addressed before they arise.
It’s never too soon to think about estate planning. At Shepherd & Long, PC, we will walk you through the process, so you can feel secure about your future. To learn more about what we do, or to schedule an appointment with a skilled Maryville estate planning attorney, 865-982-8060 or fill out our contact form.