Estate Planning Is More Than Just Your Stuff And Who Gets It

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During my initial consultation with new estate planning clients, I often start my explanation of what estate planning is by holding up both of my hands.  I explain that one hand, at its most basic level, deals with “What happens to my stuff when I die?” and “Who’s going to make sure it gets to the beneficiaries I have chosen?”  This part of the conference deals primarily with wills and trusts.

The other hand, at its most basic level, deals with “Who is going to help me if I cannot make decisions on my own?” and “How and what are they going to help me with?”  This part of the conference deals with powers of attorney for healthcare and financial and healthcare directives.

There are a lot of details to fill in after the initial discussion but I have noticed that clients tend to appreciate breaking down estate planning into basic concepts first.

This article discusses some of the aspects of estate planning that are also important and should be accomplished with the right plan.

To start, one of the major benefits of estate planning for folks with minor children is that they can name guardians for their children if they were to pass away.  This decision is usually part of the will and I urge clients to name people that they trust, but that can also handle the task of being a guardian, which includes essentially all of the same decisions as a parent.  You want someone you trust, but proximity may be important (continuity in schooling / familiarity for your children) and someone who has the ability to serve.  Your best friend in Kansas City who has four children of her own, therefore, may not make a great guardian selection.  As with other people we select to carry out our estate planning, such as trustees / executors, we want to have successors and alternates in place for guardians.

Burial planning can and should also be achieved in every estate plan.  To start, do you want to be buried or cremated?  Do you care?  If so, where do you want to buried or have your ashes spread?  Should your ashes be kept?  These are all questions that you can answer in your healthcare power of attorney document so it is clear what your wishes are.   Otherwise, your family might “wing it” and choose an option that you would not have chosen yourself.  Does the family have a burial plot at a favored cemetery?  These details can be included in your documents.  Any special wishes as to a funeral or wake can also be determined in these documents.

Another important aspect of estate planning that you can resolve is whether you want to make anatomical gifts.  Do you want to donate your organs?  Any of them?  Only some of them?  For what purposes?  In most cases, you can donate for transplantation, therapy, education and research.  People who have terminal illnesses often want to donate their body to research cures for that illness.  This is obviously a highly personal topic and my role is only to inform my clients as to the best way to carry out their personal wishes, not to persuade them to choose one thing over the other.  Finally, if you know you don’t want to donate, you have the opportunity to clearly state that in your documents.

If there is a charity that you want to donate money to after you pass, you can make that gift in your will or trust.  It’s important to clearly identify the organization (First Church on Main Street is always better than “my church”) and to decide how much you want to give them.  Gifts such as these are called “specific bequests” and can be anything from a percentage of the estate to a specific dollar amount to personal items that the organization might need.

Our office can assist you in figuring out the best way to carry out your wishes with respect to specific bequests.