Sometimes, we wish we weren’t in an industry titled, “estate planning,” because the word estate conjures images of wealthy lords of manors and acres and acres of land, with orchards of money trees. As a result, the greater population mistakenly believes that estate planning is only for the rich.
In fact, estate planning is for just about any adult – excluding those who may be fresh out of high school or college. Estate plans can be extremely simple, one to two pages or less, but that simple plan serves loved ones well when important decisions need to be made, and it ensures the decisions are made in accordance with your wishes and value.
Remember that estate plans aren’t just about post-death accommodations. They also address a myriad of issues and situations that can arise for people long before they pass on – especially in the case of medical scenarios that render you unconscious (incapacitated) or that arise while you are out of the country and unable to
“Estate” is an Often Misunderstood Legal Term
The term “estate” is largely a legal term that refers to all of the money, assets, and properties a person owns – particularly when they pass on. However, the details of an estate plan encompass so much more than that. In addition to money or property, your estate plan also encompasses important factors such as:
- Who should be making key decisions if you become indisposed or are unable to be contacted when an important medical/legal decision needs to be made for yourself or a minor in your custody
- You have a child(ren) from a previous marriage
- Your medical and legal directives
- How you want (or don’t want) your family to handle funeral/memorial, burial/cremation, dispersal of the ashes, etc.
- Who should take care of any dependents if you die or are incapacitated while they are still minors
- Planning for loved ones with special needs
- Who should take care of any pets you may have if you die or are incapacitated while they are still in your care
- Trust funds
- Tax planning
- Continuing contributions to charitable or non-profit organizations
- Anything specific to your life, values, wishes, etc.
Scheduling a consultation with a Bay Area estate planning attorney is the best way to learn more about the types of planning that make sense for where you are at in your life right now. Then, we recommend reviewing your plan annually or every other year, to keep them current and to make amendments or additions as necessary.
You Should Consider Creating an Estate Plan If…
Here are five important signs that you should meet with an estate planning attorney to learn more. Remember that we offer free 30-minute consultations, so time is your only initial investment as we help to establish what you may or may not need.
It’s probably time to embark on estate planning if…
You are a single, working adult
Even if you have more student loan debt than money in your savings or retirement account, singletons definitely benefit from estate planning.
For example, who do you want to make important decisions for you regarding your health or medical needs if you are injured in a car accident or on the slopes and are unconscious or unable to communicate your wishes? You need a medical directive that names a durable power of attorney at the very least, and a trustee if you need a will or trust put into place.
Read, Am I too Young to Think About Estate Planning, to learn more.
You have pets that will require estate planning
Who will take care of your pets if something happens to you? Whether you have fish in a tank, a parakeet in a cage, or a cat, dog, bunny, etc., it’s a shame when beloved pets wind up in an animal shelter because their owner didn’t create a care plan for the unanticipated events that befall us in life.
Verifying who is willing and able to care for your pets, “just in case,” and having that in writing is a smart idea to protect your pets. Similarly, you may want to designate a portion of your savings or retirement fund to go with the pet to pay for his/her future food, toys, veterinary bills, and boarding fees.
You own your home, car, property, or other assets
Any owned assets will go through probate if you don’t have a will or trust in place. This includes investments, retirement accounts (401Ks, IRAs, etc.), any savings accounts, the baseball card collection, family heirlooms you’ve inherited, a paid-off car, etc.
Without any official plan in place, all of these will go through the probate process, which is more expensive and time-consuming, and will require facilitation from one of your family members. The person responsible for handling the business side of things through the probate process will be designated by the probate court.
Read, How Does the Probate Process Work, to learn more about it’s always better to have some type of estate plan on record.
You have specific wishes for medical interventions, resuscitation, or end of life care
This is huge. If your feelings, wishes, or values around medical interventions, resuscitation, and/or end of life care differ from your families, or you worry that family sentiment may overrule what you’ve expressed in person or in conversations, it’s essential to get an advanced medical directive on record.
You should also name a durable power of attorney to uphold your medical directive and wishes in your stead. This person does not have to be a member of your family. And, in fact, for many people, it is much better to have a more objective loved one or (close friend, amicable ex-spouse, your estate attorney, etc.)
Everyone in your immediate family should have a copy in their file, we also recommend you have it on file with your general physician and your attorney if you have one. Keep one in a top desk drawer in a clearly marked folder, so it’s easy for people to find. This is the only way to help healthcare providers make the decisions you want to be made – regardless of what emotions or resistance may show up from family members or loved ones.
You want a special thing to go so a specific person
You should have some sort of written and documented set of instructions if you have any specific collectibles, pieces of memorabilia, heirlooms, or just plan “simple but well-loved” items that you want to go to a specific person or people.
It doesn’t matter “what you said,” to anyone. We can’t tell you how often specifically verbalized requests go completely unheeded or ignored by grieving family members (or non-grieving family members) or family members who just didn’t know better. If you do not have a written, legally documented record of your wishes, there is no way to ensure your wishes will be honored.
Estate Planning is the Only Way to Ensure Your Wishes
The bottom line is that your estate plans protect your wishes in the aftermath of any unplanned or unprecedented events that life may throw at you. It provides a compassionate and thoughtful roadmap for your loved ones to follow.
Ready to begin looking at what an estate plan may look like at this point in your life – whether you’re “rich” or not? Contact us here at Tseng Law Firm.