Help protect your family’s future with an estate plan


Help protect your family’s future with an estate plan 

Home ownership is an exciting dream for a lot of people. While estate planning may not be a dream, like home ownership, it is something very valuable for you and your family.

Surprisingly, there are many parallels between home ownership and the estate-planning process – beyond the fact they’re both major milestones for individuals and their families. With that in mind, we see three common steps with the estate-planning process.

  1. Build a strong foundation  Just like your home, make sure your estate plan has a strong foundation. Your foundation is the starting point for all activity and must be carefully designed and built.
  2. Customize to fit your needs – No one wants a cookie-cutter home – or estate plan. Personalize your estate plan to your individual situation just as you would when you decorate your home. You want to match your plan (and your home) to your family’s lifestyle.
  3. Update and maintain – You update and maintain your home to keep it current and avoid unwanted problems. The same applies to your estate plan. Ignoring required maintenance or reviews has the potential to create future problems in both scenarios.

Build a strong foundation

Putting a set of core estate-planning documents in place is essential to protecting yourself and your family. So, what does a strong foundation look like? It’s more than just a will or a will and trust. A strong foundation encompasses putting multiple documents in place that go beyond how your assets will pass and naming who would care for your children. It also addresses who can make medical and financial decisions on your behalf, if needed, incapacity planning, and it also defines health care directives.

You’ll need to work with your attorney to ensure you have a combination of a will or a will and trust, a medical and financial power of attorney, and medical directives/living will. This core set of documents can define:

  • How you would like your assets distributed at death
  • Who you would like to be the guardian of your children and dependents
  • Who could make decisions on your behalf, should you not be able to do so or become incapacitated
  • Your desires related to medical and end-of-life care

If you are a business owner, you will also want to discuss what additional documents are appropriate based on your individual situation. As each state is different, work with a qualified estate-planning attorney to draft and execute those documents most appropriate for your situation.

Customize your plan and incorporate your specific wishes

When you’re establishing your documents, there are a number of decisions related to how you can customize your estate plan for your family’s specific situation. A well-thought-out estate plan incorporates your specific wishes and directives based on the known facts.

Who do you want to name in your documents as your executor or trustee? Who would you like to act on your behalf if you are no longer able to do so (e.g., make medical decisions)?

Naming individuals in your documents is an important consideration as well as a serious responsibility. Carefully consider you who appoint in each role and discuss their responsibilities to ensure they are comfortable with what you are asking them to do. Consider these issues:

  • What is the age of those you have named in your documents to perform duties? Are they mature enough to handle the decisions that may need to be made? Could their age or knowledge/maturity impact their ability to fulfill their duties?
  • Where do those named reside? If you have named someone out of state to be a guardian, does that meet your family’s needs? Would they be able to accomplish their required duties if they do not live locally?
  • Will your selections create conflict with other family members? This is a very delicate subject. It’s important to name individuals you trust and that you know could fulfill the role. However, be aware that without communicating your thought process, there could potentially be hurt feelings, unintended consequences and misunderstanding.

Be sure to discuss these responsibilities with those you’ve named in your documents. It’s equally vital to share the location of these documents – and any relevant passwords – so the paperwork is accessible. Providing insight into why these individuals were selected and what you are hoping to achieve will allow them an opportunity to ask questions and clarify your wishes.

When leaving assets to heirs, there are a number of considerations as each situation is unique. 

Do you want to leave assets outright or in trust?

One consideration when passing assets to heirs is how the assets will be distributed. You’ll need to think about not only the specific dollar amount and who receives what, but also if you want to pass the assets outright with no restrictions or you would like to place the assets in a trust. A trust will allow a greater amount of flexibility and may also be needed to execute some tax-planning strategies.


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