Should You Create an Estate Plan?

The reasons for needing an estate plan are as varied as the individuals involved and, it seems, the many myths surrounding the subject do quite a bit of harm. For example, do you have to be “rich” in order to need an estate plan? The answer is, “No”, one does not need to be rich to need an estate plan. All you need is the desire to pass on to your heirs the greatest amount of the wealth possible that you have preserved during your lifetime.

Among the major benefits of a well-drafted estate plan are minimizing the expense of passing your estate to beneficiaries, decreasing the administrative complexities and ensuring to the extent possible that your distribution wishes are followed.

For example, if you own a home, have minor children or grandchildren, grown children in their own marriages, have been divorced, own a business, or expect to receive an inheritance of your own, you need to seriously consider the benefits of properly planning your estate. Instead of passing problems on to your heirs, you can instead elect to pass on the greatest amount of wealth with the least amount of problems through estate planning.

The largest hurdle, oftentimes, is building a lasting relationship with an attorney who specializes in estate planning. Going through the Yellow Pages, or asking friends for referrals or using the internet is often a haphazard process without much guarantee of success.

Compelling Reasons to Build an Estate Plan

Among the common motivations that compel creation of an estate plan are the following. The more the following reasons apply to any situation, the greater is the need to complete estate planning to not only build and protect your hard-earned wealth but, also, to transfer your wealth with as little depletion and expense as possible. With a proper estate plan in place, you can plan ahead to:

1. Designating who will manage your affairs if you become disabled and when you pass away. If you fail to do so, a court will decide for you not only who receives your wealth but who will make the distributions. You never know who the court will appoint. Keep control of your own destiny!

2. Planning for Medicaid and its impact on your estate if you must go into a nursing home. Nursing homes today can cost as much as $75,000 per year, or more, and a longterm stay can easily impoverish all but the wealthiest families. With proper planning, however, you can shelter assets and keep your family’s wealth intact. Because there is a 50-50 chance that the average adult will spend at least one year in a longterm care facility, it becomes painfully clear this type of planning is extremely important.

3. Avoiding probate, during your lifetime and when you pass away. Do you want the court controlling you or your assets? Probate proceedings are public, expensive, and time-consuming and should be avoided whenever possible. Leave your money to your heirs quickly, privately and efficiently by establishing a proper estate plan.

4. Protecting children from a prior marriage if you pass away first. Second marriage planning can be complex and tricky. Expert legal guidance is needed to ensure your assets are preserved and your children of your first marriage will receive the proper share of their inheritance.

5. Protecting assets inherited by your heirs from lawsuits, divorces and other claims. Make sure your assets are inherited by your loved ones, not the people you don’t want to receive them, such as their ex-spouses, in-laws, creditors or the IRS.

6. Imposing discipline upon children or grandchildren who may not be capable or experienced in managing wealth. Make sure your children or grandchildren spend their inheritance wisely and protect their inheritance against inexperience and mismanagement by including specific conditions and rewards in your estate plan.

7. Providing for special needs children and grandchildren. The loss of governmental benefits can wipe out your estate. Special considerations and planning is needed to avoid the loss of governmental benefits.

8. Insuring that a specific portion of your estate actually gets to grandchildren, charities, etc. Without planning, a judge will decide who inherits your assets. Pre-planning your estate ensures your intentions and directions are followed.

9. Protecting a portion of your estate if you pass away first and your surviving spouse remarries. Special Trusts, commonly referred to as “A-B trusts”, can be crafted to protect your current surviving spouse and to insure that your assets don’t end up in the wrong hands. Take action now to protect your family.

10. Addressing different needs of different children. No two children are alike. Customized estate planning can assure that each child’s personal needs are addressed in the manner you deem best.

11. Preventing or discouraging challenges to your estate plan. Establishing a well-drafted and comprehensive Revocable Living Trust now makes it more difficult for objections when you are no longer around to speak for yourself.

12. Encouraging and rewarding your heirs who make smart life decisions and preventing the depletion of your estate from those who do not. There can be a point at which giving a child more money can make them less productive and less happy. A Family Incentive Trust can be tailored with financial incentives which encompass your family values and goals to encourage and motivate your children. Such a Trust can be a loving way to support your children while inspiring them to be productive members of society and fostering their sense of self-worth.

13. Assuring an education for children, or grandchildren, despite what they (or their parents) dream of doing with the inheritance. Establishing an educational trust can assure that your children or grandchildren use their inheritance for education and not fund a vacation in Las Vegas.

14. Plan for a “Brady Bunch” family estate plan and assure that a stepparent doesn’t spend your children’s inheritance and/or provide for a spouse without sacrificing the intended legacy for children of a prior marriage. A divorce and subsequent marriage can have devastating effects on the inheritance you intend for your children if your estate plan is not reviewed and updated. Often times, the original “traditional” estate plan will not meet the needs or provide the protection needed for your new blended family so proper planning is imperative.

15. Pursuing charitable goals you may not otherwise feel you can afford. Considerably cutting probate expenses allows you to also leave a legacy to a charitable organization you admire.

If your wealth or disposition desires fall into any one of the above groups, you should contact an estate planning attorney in your area. Many times, waiting to make a decision about distributing your wealth or deciding who can make decisions for you in case of death or incapacity will result in your dreams for your children and grandchildren, or your favorite charity, never, ever, being realized. Thus, tarrying in creating an estate plan can cause extreme confusion, turmoil and expense for your heirs that can easily be avoided by contacting a highly qualified, trained and tested estate planning specialist in your locale.