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Has the Covid-19 pandemic got you considering an estate plan? If so you might be asking such questions as, “what’s better: a will or a trust?” “What about a revocable living trust?” And, “should I also get life insurance?” While common, these are the wrong questions to be asking. At best, they’ll cause all kinds of unnecessary anxiety; at worst, they set your plan up for failure. After all, unless you, yourself, are an estate planning attorney, it’s not your job to be asking such questions.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t come to any conversation about estate planning with a sense of your needs. Rather, it’s to say that gaining a sense of these needs means something different than you might think.
Your job, as a person looking to institute an estate plan, is to construct a clear sense of what you would like your plan to achieve, not what you want it to include.
Key Considerations When Organizing Your Estate
Your estate is your life’s work and so it’s only natural that you would want to take an active role in planning how it will be passed down to future generations. This is good, even critical, and the best way to assume this role is to consider the following.
- What are your core values? This might mean weighing your commitment to fairness against your desire to see, say, a long-held family business thrive. It might also mean determining the extent that you would like charitable giving to figure into your legacy. Defining your core values can be challenging and you need to have a perfect definition to begin planning, but a rough sense goes a long way in ensuring your life’s work continues to reflect, well, you.
- Who is your family? As silly a question as this may sound, it is essential to planning your estate. Are you organizing your affairs with just you and your spouse in mind? Are there children to consider? Do you wish to also include extended family members, friends, or other loved ones as beneficiaries? Knowing who you want to support and in what capacity is crucial to building a successful plan.
- What assets do you own, both financial and sentimental, and where do you want them to end up? This doesn’t just mean taking stock of properties, vehicles, financial accounts, and items of value; it also means reflecting carefully on any belongings of sentimental importance and considering any digital assets, too. Social media profiles, for instance, are nowadays less about housing your photos and more about creating an extension of your person. When you’re gone, you’ll want to know that this part of you, too, is accessible to those you love in whatever way you may want.
- What are your financial goals, both in the short and long term? How much will you need to comfortably retire? How much do you hope to leave to beneficiaries and in how would you like to see this distributed? The SECURE Act introduced this year has brought about major changes to how IRAs may be distributed so even if you have a plan in place, a review is essential as the mechanisms available for meeting one’s goals have shifted.
- Lastly, it is important that you ask what should happen if you become incapacitated. Who will handle medical and financial decisions on your behalf? An estate plan, after all, does not just prepare your assets for your eventual passing, but for any unforeseen circumstances that might make it impossible for you, personally, to manage your affairs.
With answers to these questions in mind, an experienced estate planning attorney can counsel you on whether a will or trust is best suited to your needs and whether an irrevocable living trust, or any other range of estate planning tools, are necessary. The resulting plan will ensure that the goals you bring to the planning process are met and your life’s work continues to reflect the person who has invested so much in creating it: you.