Writing a will or trust, also known as estate planning, helps ensure that your wishes are respected and your family is taken care of in the event that you are incapacitated by illness, or after your death. Proper estate planning can avoid probate delays so that your estate is distributed more quickly to your beneficiaries. And if you have children, it’s important to name a guardian so that in the event of the death of both parents, your children will be raised by someone who has an emotional connection to your children and shares your parenting philosophy.
A skilled attorney will be able to explain your options and develop an estate plan that makes sense for you and your family.
What is an estate?
Everything you own or have a financial stake in, at the time of your death, is your estate. Creating an “estate plan” helps you pass on your wealth in the most efficient manner possible, and explains how your estate should be handled if you become ill during your lifetime.
What goes into an estate plan?
A typical estate plan includes (a) a will; (b) an advance directive regarding life support and other healthcare decisions, which is more thorough than a “living will” because it addresses terminal illness; and (c) two durable powers of attorney, one for making healthcare decisions on your behalf, the other for making financial and business decisions. Sometimes an estate plan also includes (d) a revocable living trust; and (e) a letter with detailed instructions about funeral plans or memorial services, known as a “precatory letter.”
Can I leave all my healthcare decisions to my family?
As many as 70% of us will be incapacitated at some point before our death, and someone else will have to make our medical decisions. The more we do to prevent conflicting opinions about our choices, the greater the likelihood that our choices will be respected. After all, advance directives are not just for the elderly. Some of the best-known choice-in-dying cases arose from the experiences of young people (e.g., Terri Schiavo, Nancy Cruzan, Karen Ann Quilan) on life support because of tragic accidents and illness.
Who will raise my child in the event of my death?
If you would like your children to be placed under the care of a specific person, you’ll need to nominate that person as the guardian in your will or in a separate document. If two parents die without naming a guardian, the court will likely appoint whoever the judge considers to be the most logical person—usually the nearest blood relative. The judge will consider the best interests of the child and will require the appointed guardian to put forth a bond or other security and file annual reports to demonstrate his or her ability to care for the child. You have the legal right to designate any caring, competent adult as guardian. However, if you do not name a blood relative as guardian, you should state in writing why you have chosen someone else to raise your child.
A. C. Howard Law will help you design a plan that lets you stay in control of your estate for as long as possible, provide for your care should you become ill, and, upon your death, distribute your estate to your heirs as you see fit. Depending on your needs and interests, we may recommend that you work with a financial advisor, a tax advisor, or both to ensure the documents created are compatible with your risk tolerance and are tailored to meet your short-term and long-term financial goals. Rest assured, any information you provide will be zealously safeguarded and protected from disclosure to the fullest extent of the law.
To learn more about how an expertly written estate plan can protect your family’s future, contact A. C. Howard Law for a free 25-minute consultation.