ESTATE PLANNING BASICS
Regardless of the stage of life you are in - whether a newlywed, a new parent, recently divorced or otherwise, you need to establish an estate plan. Advance planning allows you to retain the greatest degree of control over your life and your assets. If you neglect to create a Will, appoint a guardian for your minor children, designate a person to care for your finances or execute a healthcare directive, decisions regarding your estate, your children's guardians, your finances and your medical care will be made by the government and the courts, without regard to your personal wishes. An estate plan offers you peace of mind, knowing that your long term needs will be met, that your assets will be protected for the benefit of the person or persons whom you choose and, most importantly, your family will be protected in the event of your incapacity or death. Once incapacity strikes, it is usually too late to implement these mechanisms and your only option is a court proceeding. You can never be too young, be too old, or not have enough assets to put together an estate plan. It is never too early or too late to prepare.
If you already have an estate plan, we recommend that you review your documents periodically to ensure that they continue to meet your goals and comply with changes in the law, and whenever a significant life event occurs (e.g., birth of a child, death of a spouse, divorce, serious illness or purchase of a new home). Lara would be happy to review your current estate planning documents, summarize their terms for you, and make any necessary recommendations or changes.
Estate planning strategies involve more than just creating a Will. You can plan for the accumulation and handling of your assets while you are alive and upon your death; draft trusts that will operate during your life and after your death to manage your assets in order to support your children until they are of age and to shelter your estate from taxes; protect your heirs from creditors and divorce; utilize gifts to individuals or charities to reduce taxes; incorporate life insurance in your plan to provide liquidity; and more.
The first step in implementing your estate plan is to determine what your goals are with respect to your estate. For instance, to whom do you want to leave your property upon your death? Do you want a portion of your assets to go to charity or for your child's education? Who would be a good person to serve as your Executor (individual(s) appointed to marshal assets, pay bills and distribute your estate) and as the guardian of your minor children? Who do you want to designate to make medical decisions for you in the event you become incapacitated?
The second step in implementing your estate plan is to take an inventory of your assets, including your home, bank accounts, stocks and bonds, jewelry, insurance and retirement plans, and to note how they are owned. A similar inventory must also be taken of your debts and liabilities. This can be done using our comprehensive Estate Planning Questionnaire, which we will provide to you.
After we have received your completed Estate Planning Questionnaire, we will meet with you to help implement your estate planning goals. We will consider the tax ramifications of your plan, and advise you regarding the best methods to minimize taxes. We will present you with options for the best vehicles to carry out your plan, including Wills, trusts and any other estate planning tools.