Estate Planning - Planning Ahead For Your New Year’s Resolutions

I read an article recently about 9 steps to getting your estate plan in order, and found I disagreed with many of the suggested steps. Since many people will make doing their will and estate plan a big part of whatever New Year’s resolutions they will make next week, I thought it would be helpful to make a better list of how to prepare to get your estate plan in order.

  • One point I agreed with from the article was this - Talk to your family. If not your entire family, then to your spouse, or the child, or children, that will play a large role in decisions about you when you are incapacitated or gone. If you are not sure which child or person that will be, make a list and make sure to talk about the pros and cons of each person with your attorney. A good estate planning attorney will help you cull (bad word choice here?) the list done to the best choices.
  • Understand what happens if you do nothing. There is always a plan for what happens when you die or become incapacitated. You just probably won’t like it. For example, while it is true that 65{93997c19cca2413204031df21c26e128a46aabe0f65d6d1b886d87d0d40a7681} of financial institutions will pay your IRA to your spouse if you forget to name them in the proper form, that also means that 35{93997c19cca2413204031df21c26e128a46aabe0f65d6d1b886d87d0d40a7681} of institutions do not. And 73{93997c19cca2413204031df21c26e128a46aabe0f65d6d1b886d87d0d40a7681} of financial institutions will send the funds either to the estate directly, or to the spouse and then the estate, before it goes to children.
  • Make sure you know if you live in a community property state and understand that in many states not all assets go to a spouse, or that in every state, a spouse can at least partially overturn your Will, if enough assets were not left to them in your Will.
  • Prepare. Collect information about your assets and family. Most estate planning attorneys will provide you with a good questionnaire to prepare ahead of time. If they don’t send you one, use our questionnaire. While this can be a daunting task, it is always useful to collect this information for yourself, as well as this meeting.
  • A really useful exercise is to make a copy of every statement you get from any kind of account for at least three (3) months, and put them in a file or binder. This will help you capture a snapshot of current assets, but also leave an efficient guidebook for whoever you pick to take care of you, or your estate.
  • Must you avoid Probate? That is a question best left to you and your attorney. BUT, if you are not going to avoid probate for all of your assets, make sure you leave some cash going to your Personal Representative or Executor. If you leave them with nothing to do but probate your house and your household stuff, it means they have to find cash to pay taxes, bills, and house sale preparations.

The list of things to do to prepare, or ways to prepare is endless, and I am sure I will write far more in the future.

But remember that getting started is the most important thing.

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Norman B. Handler's Profile Image
Norman Handler started his legal career with the IRS, auditing estate tax returns and, in its National Office, developing estate tax policy. He moved into private practice, first as an associate and later as a partner in a large Montgomery County law… Read More

Marc S. Levine's Profile Image
Marc S. Levine has been practicing law since 1992, all with Handler & Levine, LLC, and its predecessor firms. Marc regularly assists individuals and families in preparing their estate plans, including drafting their wills, revocable trusts, tru… Read More

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