Legal Documents to Consider for Estate Planning

Regardless of the size of your estate, you should consider addressing your own individual planning issues, in order to preserve your estate and make your wishes known, preferably in writing. I recommend meeting with a qualified estate planning attorney to determine exactly what estate planning documents you should have prepared based on your particular facts and circumstances. If you have no minor children, or if all of your assets are held jointly with your spouse, or if you have no assets to speak of, then your estate may not need to go through probate. If so, you may not need a will. Or, if you are willing to have your assets administered and distributed according to the rules of your particular state, you may also not need a will.

If you need a will, it must be prepared in accordance with the laws in your resident state. Although your will may still be valid after you move to a new state, certain parts of it may become invalid or may require changes due to the unique laws of your new state of residence. If the laws of your new state are different, this could ­invalidate your will or certain parts of it. It is always best to update it and to use an attorney who is familiar with the laws of your current state of residence.

In my opinion, everyone should consider their own particular needs; then you should determine what legal documents are most appropriate for you. These documents may include a health care proxy and living will, as well as a durable power of attorney, all to assist you during your lifetime. To ensure that your assets are distributed to those you want after your death, you may utilize a Last Will and Testament or Trust, or some combination of both. Please note that the names of some of these documents vary from state to state.

An effective estate plan may need to include one or more of these documents that may cover all three phases of your life. Phase I is while you are alive and well, Phase II is in the event that you become disabled, and Phase III is after your death.

To preserve your estate and allow your loved ones to share in your success of reaching point X, you will need to address numerous legal forms so that your legacy can be transferred with ease. Common forms include a Last Will and Testament, Revocable Trust and Irrevocable Trust. If you already have an estate plan that includes some of these documents, pull them out and review them. You will be surprised how quickly they can become out of date with changes that take place throughout your life, such as marriage, the birth of a child, or the death of a loved one. You (and your spouse, if you are married) should have your estate plan reviewed at least once every five years by an attorney well-versed in estate planning, or sooner if you experience a life-changing event such as a birth or death in your family, or retirement, to ensure that it is up to date with both your wishes and the laws that apply in your current state of residence. You should also consider reviewing and updating these documents more frequently in the event of legislation changes. Your financial advisor or estate attorney should bring any legislative changes to your attention so that you can take the necessary steps to ensure your estate plan is still fulfilling your wishes and minimizing your estate-tax exposure.

Also, I cannot overemphasize the importance of working with a qualified estate attorney who is thoroughly familiar with the laws in your state of residence. All of the following documents should be drafted by and executed in front of an attorney. Online legal services such as Legal Zoom or Nolo may be tempting to use,  but even if they save you some money up front, I still believe that in most cases, the legal advice and associated cost of working directly with an attorney should more than pay for itself in the long run.

Categories: Media

Tagged as: ,