It’s something that everyone needs, but often gets overlooked. Estate planning makes some people downright uncomfortable. But the reality is, if you don’t take the time to do your estate plan, the State of Texas has one for you.  There’s no law that says you must have an estate plan—just laws that will impact what happens if you become disabled or incapacitated, how your property is handled and distributed and who will raise your children, if you don’t have a will or trust. The greatest thing about a properly drafted estate plan is that YOU are writing the law for you and your family – Not the government.  If you want to be the one making those decisions, planning is not only important – it’s essential, says WMUR 9 in a recent article “Money Matters: Estate planning,”

An estate plan can be simple, if you only own a few assets and the perfect functioning family, or complicated if you have significant assets, more than one home and multiple investments or complicated family issues. Some strategies are easier to implement, like a last will and testament. Others can be simple or complex, like trusts. Whatever your needs, an estate planning attorney will be able to give you the guidance that your unique situation requires. Just remember – there is no such thing as One-Size-Fits-All, because your plan needs to be as unique as the family it’s protecting.  A good estate planning attorney will approach your planning with a holistic attitude and may work with your financial advisor and accountant to be sure that your financial, tax and legal plans work together to benefit you and your family.  A great estate planning attorney will help you with more than just your “estate” plan, he or she will work with you to implement a comprehensive Family Protection Plan.

There are circumstances that require special estate planning:

  • If your estate is valued at more than the federal gift and/or estate tax exclusion, which is $11.4 million per person in 2019
  • You have minor children and/or children from a prior marriage
  • There are family members with special needs who rely on your support
  • You own a business
  • You own property in more than one state
  • You want to leave a charitable legacy
  • Your property includes artwork or other valuable collectables
  • You have opinions about end-of-life healthcare
  • You want privacy for your family
  • You have concerns about irresponsible beneficiaries
  • You want to protect your children’s inheritance from their creditors, lawsuit predators and divorce

The first step for any estate plan is a thorough review of the family finances, dynamics and assets. Who are your family members? How do you want to help them? What do they need? What is your tax picture like? How old are you, and how good is your health? These are just a few of the things an estate planning attorney will discuss with you. Once you are clear on your situation, you’ll discuss overall goals and objectives. The attorney will be able to outline your options, whether you are concerned with passing wealth to the next generation, avoiding family disputes, preparing for a disability or transferring ownership of a business.

A last will and testament will provide clear, legal direction as to how your assets should be distributed and who will care for any minor children.

A trust is used to avoid the legal probate process, avoid guardianship and address more complex planning concerns, just to name a few. A trust is a legal entity that holds assets to be used for the benefit of one or more individuals. It is overseen by a trustee or trustees, who can be individuals you name or professionals.

If you create trusts, it is important that assets be retitled so the trust owns the assets and not you personally. If the assets are not retitled, the trust will not achieve your goals.

Some property typically has its own beneficiary designations, like IRAs, retirement accounts and life insurance. These assets pass directly to heirs according to the designation, but only if you make the designations on the appropriate forms.

Once you’re done with your estate & family protection plan, make a note on your calendar. Estate plans and beneficiary designations need to be reviewed every three or four years. WHY? – because the one constant in life is CHANGE – Lives change, laws change, legal strategies change and your estate & family protection plan needs to keep pace.

Reference: WMUR 9 (Aug. 1, 2019) “Money Matters: Estate planning”