ESTATE PLANNING IN THE COVID ERA
For years, I’ve noticed a lot of my estate planning clients make a sort of confessional during our initial consultation:
“We’ve been putting this off for years!”
“Our financial advisor has been on our case to get this done so we’re finally here.”
“My wife has been wanting to do this forever and she finally had enough!”
As I always tell these confessional clients, better late than never. And that’s never been more true than during the Covid pandemic. For the first time in my nearly twenty-year career as an estate planning attorney O’Fallon, Missouri, many of my clients know they are taking a risk by not creating wills and trusts.
This article will discuss why you need an estate plan and the basics of what that means.
A LIVING TRUST AND/OR WILL
First, you need documents that literally give away your stuff to your chose people when you pass away. Those chosen people are called beneficiaries and that’s usually going to be your spouse, then your children.
Second, depending on how much stuff you have, how old your children are and, really, a number of factors, you’ll need either a will or a living trust (and a will). A revocable living trust Missouri is an agreement in which you (the Trustor) named someone to manage the trust (the Trustee, also usually you at first) for the benefit of your beneficiaries.
Avoiding probate is a central goal, among many others, of having a living trust and why it is almost always the best option for people with anything other than the simplest of estates.
POWERS OF ATTORNEY
Third, you will need documents that cover you in case you become incapacitated during your life. We call these powers of attorney and there are two separate documents: a durable power of attorney for healthcare and a durable power of attorney for finances.
Essentially, you (the principal) is going to name a series of people in the order you prefer to make decisions for you if you are incapacitated and unable to do so yourself. Those chosen people are commonly referred to as your agents, or your power of attorney.
The financial power of attorney ensures that if you become incapacitated, an agent has legal authority to complete banking tasks for you, pay bills, file taxes, sell property and so on.
Now, within that healthcare power of attorney is an important document called a living will, or often, a healthcare directive. A living will is simply a set of instructions to you agent as to what treatments that you’d want to have withheld or withdrawn if your doctor thinks they will keep you alive but you won’t get better. The classic case is a person who gets into a terrible car accident and never comes out of a coma. In such a sad situation, at some point, someone has to decide that their loved one is never coming out of that coma and therefore the best thing to do is to end it.
There are other associated documents, but the will / living trust, healthcare power of attorney and healthcare directive and financial power of attorney are the cornerstones of a complete estate plan.
PICKING THE RIGHT ATTORNEY
Estate plans should be drafted by an attorney and that attorney should specialize in estate planning. When you hire an experienced estate planner near me, you are much more likely to not only get the right documents drafted correctly, but understand the process better.
Too many people have estate plans but don’t know anything about them. That’s where choosing the right lawyer to assist you during this process becomes crucial. That’s because the right lawyer will educate you not only as to what you need but why you need it.
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU MEET WITH AN ESTATE PLANNING ATTORNEY
When a person calls our office, we usually gather some basic information about them during the initial call. From there, an appointment is set and the client is sent what I call “homework”. The homework consists of a questionnaire listing family information, as well as information about assets and health status.
We also send a few documents to help the client prepare for the consultation, including an explanation of who they need to choose to be in charge of the various aspects of their estate planning and who they want to be their beneficiaries.
You should feel comfortable and informed during the consultation. Like with all things, you should feel extremely confident that the attorney knows this practice area and can answer all of your questions. Experience certainly matters and estate planning is no different.
Completing an estate plan can cause reluctance among many people. But finally completing your estate plan should not be a difficult process once you’ve determined you’re going to do so.