Before we can start talking about how to begin the process of preparing your estate planning documents, you need to get an idea for what estate planning is.
Estate Planning Overview
At its core estate planning is a process where you develop a plan for how your assets (e.g., real estate, bank accounts, etc.) will be used while you're alive and after you pass away. Often this is where "Wills" and "Living Trusts" come into the picture. An estate plan also includes documents such as an Advance Health Care Directive that make sure someone is in place to make health care decisions for you if you become incapacitated (i.e., you're no longer able to communicate your wishes). Finally, planning for any minor children you may have is another major component of an estate plan. The end product of this process is generally a set of estate planning documents that specifies your wishes.
Developing an effective estate plan involves analyzing various moving parts and how they all interact with each other, and frequently having an estate planning lawyer guide you makes a lot of sense. Here's just a brief list of things you might need to think about:
- Who will be in charge of making sure your assets get distributed to your family or loved ones?
- Who will take care of any minor children you may have?
- If you own a business, what will happen to it if you suddenly pass away?
- How can you minimize the impact of income, estate, and property taxes as a result of your death?
- How can you put a process in place so that your assets get distributed to your beneficiaries over time?
- If you suddenly became incapacitated and couldn't communicate your wishes any more, who would make medical or financial decisions for you?
Carrying Out the Estate Plan
As with any plan that is put in place, the eventuality is that it must be carried out. This latter phase is often referred to as estate or trust (if you've set up a trust during your lifetime) administration. During this stage, the Executor or Trustee is tasked with carrying out the wishes that you've specified in your estate planning documents.