A poorly-drafted will or trust can lead to unnecessary expenses, lengthy court hearings, and family discord. Fortunately, if you ask yourself a few key questions before you begin the process of planning your estate, you can use your answers to guide many of your most important decisions and minimize surprises and complications.
When you’re working with an attorney to build or update your estate plan, ask yourself the following five important questions and you should be able to build a comprehensive plan that addresses your most important wishes and concerns.
1. Who Will Make Important Decisions if I’m Incapacitated?
At some point, most of us will need a power of attorney. A power of attorney is a legal document that lets someone make important decisions for you while you are incapacitated due to dementia, illness, or injury.
Powers of attorney come in several different types. Depending on your circumstances, you might consider creating any or all of the following:
- Health care power of attorney: This document appoints a trusted loved one to make medical decisions on your behalf, including whether to continue medical treatment or transition you to hospice care.
- Financial power of attorney: While you’re incapacitated, someone has to make important decisions that involve your finances. A financial power of attorney appoints that person. If you’re the sole proprietor of a business, you can also use this document to authorize someone to make business-related decisions for you.
- Power of attorney for a minor child: In a time of crisis, children need consistency and reassurance. If you’re unable to care for your children, a power of attorney can appoint a trusted guardian who will take legal and physical custody of them.
Because the agent you name in a power of attorney makes some very important decisions once you become incapacitated, it’s important to choose someone who is reliable and trustworthy. At Phillips & Santana, we can help you identify loved ones who can serve as potential agents for your powers of attorney, and we’ll also guide you and the agents you choose through the process of drafting and signing a power of attorney form.
2. Are My Finances in Order?
You might have a detailed understanding of your assets and debts, but if you suddenly become incapacitated, your loved ones may suddenly find themselves in over their heads if you haven’t planned things carefully. Without a well-organized estate, your family members or your personal representative might spend countless hours identifying your property and filing paperwork, especially if you had accounts or assets they weren’t familiar with.
When you die, your estate in Michigan has to go through a legal process called probate. During probate, your legal representative must:
- Identify everything you own at the time of your death, including cash, stocks, bonds, insurance policies, real estate, personal property, and other assets
- Notify your heirs and creditors of your death
- Pay your outstanding debts
- Distribute your remaining assets according to your will
A disorganized estate can cause serious delays and add unnecessary costs to the probate process. If organizing your estate sounds like a massive project, consider working with an estate lawyer. An experienced attorney should be able to help you understand the scope of your holdings and show you how to build an estate plan that streamlines or eliminates the probate process.
3. Who Should Benefit From My Estate?
Most people want to use their estate plan to look after their spouse and children. However, you can also use estate planning methods to transfer assets to other family members, close friends, and non-profit organizations. Regardless of how you choose to distribute your assets and to whom, you should think carefully about how you want to distribute your estate and then work with an experienced lawyer to clearly set out your wishes in a valid estate plan.
Sometimes, West Michigan families need more than a simple will. Depending on your circumstances, it might be in your best interest to establish a special purpose trust. These trusts come in a variety of different forms, including:
- Charitable trusts: This type of trust benefits a charity or addresses a social need.
- Living trusts: Your assets are placed into a living trust during your lifetime. While you’re alive, you benefit from the trust. After your death, the assets in the trust are distributed to your successors. Assets in a living trust typically don’t have to go through probate.
- Special needs trusts: This unique type of trust is designed to benefit a disabled child or loved one without disrupting his or her government benefits.
At Phillips & Santana, our goal is to build comprehensive estate plans that address both your current needs and your long-term goals. If you have questions about your estate’s beneficiaries or whether a special purpose trust might be the best option for you, contact us today to schedule a free consultation.
4. Do My Estate Planning Documents Accurately Reflect My Wishes?
We all change over time, and so do our priorities. If you drafted a will or trust sometime in the past, it might not line up with your current goals and wishes.
For example, you might want to support a child or grandchild that was not born at the time you created your original estate plan. Or, you might decide that you want to give some of your assets to a charity or non-profit now that your children have completed their educations and establish themselves financially.
Not only that, but estate plans can simply become outdated as trust, estate, and tax laws change. There may be new options available to you that didn’t exist at the time you created your original plan.
These reasons are why it’s important to build a long-term relationship with your estate planning lawyer. Once your lawyer knows you and understands your long-term goals and needs, they should be able to keep you informed about legal developments and help you review and modify your estate plan periodically.
5. Do My Loved Ones Understand My End-of-Life Goals?
Talking about death and dying is tough, but not talking about it can make it even harder, at least for your friends and family. If you’ve never addressed what you want to happen after you die, it can lead to confusion, hurt feelings, and disputes over your property and wishes, which are probably among the last things you want your grieving loved ones to experience.
Being open and transparent about your end-of-life plans and goals is the best way to avoid these kinds of complications. If you need help discussing your estate plan with your family, ask your estate lawyer for help. A good estate planning attorney should have experience not only with helping people plan their estate but also with making their clients comfortable and fostering these kinds of important conversations.
Law Offices of Kari Santana: Helping Families in Grand Rapids and West Michigan Plan for the Future
Law Offices of Kari Santana is a family-owned estate planning law firm in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We pride ourselves on client-focused services, thoughtful advice, and attention to detail. Like you, we value long-term relationships that are built on trust and shared goals.
If you’d like to schedule your free consultation so you can meet our team and learn more about our personalized approach to estate planning for West Michigan families, just complete our easy online contact form or call us at (616) 717-5759.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.