Have you planned for your future? Planning ahead to help ensure your assets will be distributed according to your wishes can mean the difference between peace of mind and untold stress for your family after you have passed on.
“Planning is bringing the future into the present, so you can do something about it now.” ~ Alan Lakein
Estate Planning is a process. It involves your family and other individuals and, in many cases, charitable organizations of your choice. It also involves your assets (your property) and the various forms of ownership and title that those assets may take. And it can help address the future needs of you and your family.
Through Estate Planning, you can determine:
- How and by whom your assets will be managed for your benefit during your lifetime if you ever become incapacitated.
- When and under what circumstances it makes sense to distribute your assets both during your lifetime and after your death.
- How and by whom your personal care will be managed, and how healthcare decisions will be made during your lifetime if you become unable to care for
Many people mistakenly think that Estate Planning only involves the drafting of a Will. Estate Planning, however, can also involve financial, tax, medical, and business Planning. A Will is part of the Planning Process, but you may need other legal documents as well to fully address your Estate Planning needs.
If you have neglected your Estate Planning needs in recent years, here are the steps you can, and really must, undertake to fulfill any Plans you have for your Estate.
Make a List of All Your Debts: Step one to getting your Retirement Planning on track is to list all of the debts you currently have. This is almost a non-starter for many people, but it is a necessary first step. Start with your credit cards and work up to larger debts like mortgages, auto loans, and home equity lines of Requesting a free credit report yearly is an easy way to keep track of exactly what you owe.
Review Your Retirement Accounts: Retirement Accounts (IRA's, 401(k)'s, Pensions, etc.) include a Beneficiary Designation, which takes precedence over any Will or Trust you may create and execute. You need to ensure that the Beneficiaries listed on your Retirement Plans will be the same as those listed in your Estate Documents. This is especially true in the event you want to create a Family Trust.
Update Your Life Insurance and/or Annuity Beneficiaries: Just as you did with your Retirement Accounts, request a list of any Life Insurance Policies and/or Annuities from your providers to make sure your Beneficiary Designations are current and correct.
Set up Transfer-on-Death Designations: With the future of your Retirement Accounts, Life Insurance Policies, and/or Annuities in order, make sure you also account for any Securities you hope to pass on. You can assign Transfer-on-Death designations for your Bank Accounts, CDs, Stocks and Bonds, etc., that will help prevent your Beneficiaries from having to go through Probate. You can contact your Bank or Broker for assistance regarding these designations.
Create a Will and other Estate Planning Documents: The Will, and/or Trust, should be signed, witnessed, and This ensures that your Estate Plans are nearly bullet-proof and that any challenge to your Estate Plans will be overruled and dismissed. Your attorney should maintain copies; you should also keep one copy of each document at home in a secure place, and another in a safe deposit box. You should also maintain a copy on your computer or in “cloud storage" in the event the originals are lost.
Initiate a Healthcare Power of Attorney (Living Will), Financial Power of Attorney (POA), Guardianship Powers: Do you have a Plan in place if an illness or injury leaves you indisposed and unable to make decisions for yourself? Now is the time to designate things like Powers of Attorney and Guardianship(s) for your children, if applicable. A Healthcare Power of Attorney (Living Will) can also insure that you receive the treatment you desire at the end of your life. A Financial Power of Attorney may become necessary in the future and you should have one on-hand in the event you need to turn over the affairs of your Estate to someone you trust.
Choose an Executor and Successor Executors/Trustee and Successor Trustees: Deciding who will execute your final wishes should be given serious thought. You want a person who is responsible, capable of making objective decisions, and in good physical and mental health.
Review Your Insurance Requirements: Because life changes, it is important to revisit your insurance needs at least every five (5) years, and sooner as you age. Changes in your family — births, deaths, disabilities, marriages, and divorces — can change the appropriate amount of coverage you may need.
Pre-Plan Your Funeral: Pre-Planning your funeral is a smart and loving choice. When you Pre-Plan, you relieve your loved ones from having to make difficult decisions during their time of grief. Plus, pre-funding — or paying your funeral expenses ahead of time — can help ensure you get a meaningful tribute that fits within your family's
Simplify Your Life: This might seem like the easiest item on your Estate Planning Bucket List, but simplifying is an ongoing If you've worked a number of jobs over the years, you may have a number of 401(k) or other Retirement Accounts that could be consolidated into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA).
Consolidating may give you more financial flexibility — and less paperwork. If you have open credit cards without a balance, close them. Once you have all of your paperwork in order, make sure the people who need copies — such as your attorney and beneficiaries, have access to the information.
Business Succession. Finally, if you are self-employed and own a business, have you made plans in the event of your passing or if you become disabled?
What about the future of your business? Can your business sustain itself without you? Or, more importantly, can it sustain you and your family without you? Are your Articles of Incorporation and Operating Agreements up to date?
Don't wait until it becomes too late. Estate and Business Succession Planning can take some time to implement if complicated.
Business Succession Planning includes everything from having an Emergency Plan in your bylaws to the time-consuming but purposeful process of transferring a business to your children. It may include:
- Buy-Sell Agreements
- Strategy for Sale, Transition, or Close-out
- Insurance Protection to Fund Transfer
- Entity re-formation
Asset Protection is another key element to Business Succession Planning. Keeping your assets protected from competitors, spendthrifts, and the IRS. Elements may include:
- Family Limited Partnerships
- Revocable and Irrevocable Living Trusts
- Strategic Tax Planning
Estate Planning: A holistic and comprehensive look at your life, your family, your care, and your goals. Planning for those times when you can't make decisions for yourself is even more important than planning for death.
- Comprehensive Estate Plans
- General (Financial) Powers of Attorney
- Medical Powers of Attorney
- Living Wills
- Special Needs Planning
- Long Term Care Planning
The best Estate Plans are created by focusing on people, not just property. In its most basic terms. Estate Planning is how your affairs will be managed in the event you are not around, either because of your death or incapacity. No one wants to think about their mortality, but do you honestly want to leave your loved ones to sort out your affairs without your input? Worse yet, if you do not create your own Estate Plan, the State will create one for you.
“For tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” ~ Old African proverb.
We know you have lots of questions about Estate Planning. At the Ronald J. Fichera Law Firm, we are here to answer your specific questions. Contact us either by using our online form or by calling us directly at 610-768-9255 to schedule a Free Consultation.
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