Many people think that estate planning is just about distributing assets after death and minimizing taxes. While this is certainly part of it, a well-designed estate plan can help you accomplish much more. Another common misconception is that estate planning is only for wealthy families. Not so. Every individual and family can benefit from having a plan of their own, one created by an attorney who focuses on this area of the law.
In essence, estate planning is about planning for every stage of life, not simply what happens after you pass away. For example, an estate plan can help ensure that your children will be well-cared for if something happens to you or your spouse. It can protect your assets from the cost of long-term care, and give you control over your financial and healthcare decisions if you become incapacitated. And of course, it can allow you to give what you want, when you want, to the people you want, in the manner you want. In short, estate planning gives you control, and the peace of mind that comes with having a plan in place for the future.
Even a basic estate plan can help you accomplish the goals we have just mentioned, and many more. Our basic estate planning services include:
- Last Will & Testament
- Powers of Attorney
- Health Care Directives
- HIPAA Authorizations
- Revocable Living Trusts
We will draft and sign your plan during the Planning phase of our relationship. Once your documents are in place, the Maintenance phase of your plan will begin. At no additional charge, we review your plan at least every three years, and keep you informed at least monthly about changes in the law or other issues that affect your family and your wealth. And, if you participate in one of our Maintenance Membership Programs, you will have an opportunity to review your plan on an annual basis, in addition to receiving numerous valuable benefits for you and your family.
Probate is a legal process that takes place after someone dies. It includes:
- Proving in court that a deceased person’s will is valid (usually a routine matter)
- Identifying and inventorying the deceased person’s property
- Having the property appraised
- Paying debts and taxes, and
- Distributing the remaining property as the will (or state law, if there’s no will) directs.
Typically, probate involves paperwork and court appearances by lawyers. The lawyers and court fees are paid from estate property, which would otherwise go to the people who inherit the deceased person’s property.
Probate rarely benefits your beneficiaries, but it always costs them money and time. Probate makes sense only if your estate will have complicated problems, such as debts that can’t easily be paid from the property you leave.
In your Family Wealth Planning Session, we will help you determine if your estate plan should include probate avoidance.
Even if you don’t have an estate plan, the state of New York has a plan for you. Without a will in place, you will die intestate and your possessions will be passed according to the laws of intestate succession. This means that New York state gets to decide who inherits your home, your stereo system, your SUV, and anything else you may own.
Having a will allows you to appoint the person you would want to raise your children or, even better, ensure it is not someone you don’t want raising your children under any circumstances.
Here are the top seven reasons to have a will:
1) You decide how your estate will be distributed. A will is a legally-binding document that lets you determine how you would like your estate to be handled upon your death. If you die without a will, there is no guarantee that your intended desires will be carried out. Having a will helps minimize any family fights about your estate that may arise, and also determines the “who, what, and when” of your estate.
2) You decide who will take care of your minor children. A will allows you to make an informed decision about who should take care of your minor children. Absent a will, the court will take it upon itself to choose among family members or a state-appointed guardian. Having a will allows you to appoint the person you want to raise your children or, better, make sure it is not someone you do not want to raise your children.
3) To avoid a lengthy probate process. If you have a will, you will almost certainly have to go through probate. The process will be much faster than if you died without a will. Having a will speeds up the probate process and informs the court how you’d like your estate divided. If you die without a will, the court will decide how to divide estate without your input, which can also cause long, unnecessary delays.
4) You decide who will wind up the affairs of your estate. You will name an executor in your will. Executors make sure all your affairs are in order, including paying off bills, canceling your credit cards, and notifying the bank and other business establishments. Because executors play the biggest role in the administration of your estate, you’ll want to be sure to appoint someone who is honest, trustworthy, and organized (which may or may not always be a family member).
5) You can disinherit individuals who would otherwise stand to inherit. Most people do not realize they can disinherit individuals out of their will. Yes, you may wish to disinherit individuals who may otherwise inherit your estate if you die without a will. Because wills specifically outline how you would like your estate distributed, absent a will your estate may end up on the wrong hands or in the hands of someone you did not intend (such as an ex-spouse with whom you had a bitter divorce).
6) Because you can change your mind if your life circumstances change. A good reason for having a will is that you can change it at any time while you’re still alive. Life changes, such as births, deaths, and divorce, all create situations where changing your will are necessary.
7) Because tomorrow is not promised. Procrastination and the unwillingness to accept death as part of life are common reasons for not having a will. Sometimes the realization that wills are necessary comes too late – such as when an unexpected death or disability occurs. To avoid the added stress on families during an already emotional time, it may be wise to draw up a will before it’s too late.
Legacy planning is something offered by the Law Office of Laura E. Cowan that really sets us apart from other estate planning attorneys. Legacy planning is thinking about what intangible assets you would want to pass along to future generations – who you are, what is important to you, what are your values? At this third and final meeting of the Planning stage of our relationship, we will guide you in passing on more than just your financial wealth. We have developed a tool that guides you in passing on your intangible wealth right along with your financial wealth. Many people find this legacy planning to be as important, or more so, than the passing of their tangible, physical assets.