What do you have? What do you want to accomplish? Who do you trust? These are the three fundamental questions an attorney helps you answer as your estate plan takes shape. While it is useful to consider these questions before meeting with an estate planner, there’s no need to have everything figured out: that’s the benefit of getting expertise.
Signing The Dotted Line?
Though many of us may associate estate planning with signing off on a pile of papers containing terminology that seems to be a foreign language, the truth is, professional estate planners are the first to caution us not to sign off on documents absent confidence that they truly reflect our goals. As Talia Azzaretto of Burns & Levinson explains: “A well-versed estate planning attorney can guide you through the various considerations relevant to your personal and financial circumstances, help you understand the planning process, collaborate with you to develop your short- and long-term planning goals, and craft a customized estate plan to get you there.” While planning for assets while minimizing taxes often leap to mind as the goals of estate planning, the reality, according to Azzaretto, is:
An estate plan can accomplish myriad objectives beyond simply disposing of assets and avoiding taxes (though these are often paramount). Do you have a child or relative that requires planning for special needs or long-term medical care? Are there individuals that you want to prevent from receiving your assets at all costs? Are you concerned about your child’s spending habits and ability to manage their finances? Do you want to set money aside for education expenses or to accomplish your philanthropic goals?….Don’t worry if you haven’t nailed down these goals in advance; your estate planning attorney can walk you through the various planning considerations that may apply to your particular circumstances….Remember that your goals will likely evolve over time as you experience changes in your finances, family dynamics, health, and life stage….Find an estate planner with whom you work well and who can help you reassess and adjust your planning over time.
An often overlooked or somewhat haphazard aspect of estate planning is the designation and preparation of the individuals who will carry it out. Though it is customary to name relatives or close friends, there are no laws dictating that this must be the case. As Collins Law Group observes, some circumstances make appointing a professional fiduciary the most sensible thing to do. For example, large or complex trusts might benefit from deep legal and financial expertise, while conflict-prone family dynamics might be improved by the neutrality a professional provides. Naming a professional may also make particular sense, for solo agers, as Carolyn Rosenblatt suggests: “Think about naming a professional, licensed person, called a fiduciary in some states, to handle finances in your estate plan, (Name a Power of Attorney with credentials or experience). If you become unable to manage your money for any reason, the fiduciary will be authorized to step in and protect what assets you have.”
Ultimately, depending on your circumstances, the specifics of your estate plan, and region, it is likely that you will designate several fiduciaries and may even specify alternates. Burns & Levinson share these examples of the specific roles fiduciaries may play in estate plans:
- Executor (called a “personal representative” in Massachusetts and some other states) of your estate;
- Trustee of your trust;
- Guardian of your minor or incapacitated children;
- Attorney-in-fact authorized to act on your behalf pursuant to a power of attorney document; and
- Health care agent authorized to make medical decisions on your behalf pursuant to a health care proxy document.
Be sure that those you name understand the real responsibilities involved and are armed with the information needed to carry them out. Regardless of the specifics of your estate plan, the representatives you designate to see it through are fiduciaries, with a legal responsibility to carry out your affairs in accordance with your intentions and the law. When representatives such as executors, personal representatives or trustees are designated, estate bonds can be required. Learn more about estate bonds right here. Colonial Surety, a leading, national provider of all kinds of estate bonds, makes it easy and speedy to obtain them. Simply: get a quote online, fill out the information, and enter a payment method. Print or e-file the bond from anywhere.
Good To Do: Communicate
Among the biggest mistakes made in estate and care planning is failure to clearly communicate with beneficiaries, fiduciaries, friends and loved ones about our intentions. The resulting stress is hard on everyone involved–and can even ultimately result in painful, costly and time consuming probate litigation. In addition to appropriately communicating our decisions and sharing the practical information needed to carry them out (i.e. account details and digital access codes), coordinating, and periodically updating the details associated with our estate plans is also critical.
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