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Estate Planning

“Estate planning” is a comprehensive term used to describe the process of planning for your future, both financially and medically. This can include executing a Will or Trust, specific to your needs, to describe what you want to happen to your property when you pass away. 

Nearly everyone has an estate, which is made up of everything you own— your car, home, other real estate, checking and savings accounts, investments, life insurance, furniture, personal possessions. Whether large or modest, everyone has an estate and something else in common—you can’t take it with you when you die.

In this unfortunate event, an estate plan will detail the Powers of Attorneys, which state your desires regarding health care during life, end of life decisions, and what happens to your body after death. 

The estate planning process can also be used to protect your assets from probate or taxes and help plan for your children’s future by appointing a guardian for them.

Gjesdahl Law’s Estate Planning attorney, Travis R. Jung, is an expert at crafting estate planning documents and can make sure your assets and family are taken care of after you are gone.

 

Common Questions About Estate Planning

Why is estate planning important?

Death eventually comes for us all, and when that happens—and it is a “when” and not an “if”—you probably want to control how your assets are given to the people or organizations you care most about.

To ensure your wishes are carried out, it is important that you provide instructions, stating to whom you want to leave your assets, what you want them to receive, and when they should receive it. In the process, you’ll want to avoid taxes, legal fees, and court costs.

That is estate planning—making a plan in advance and naming whom you want to receive the things you own after you die.

Does a good estate plan do anything other than distribute my assets?

Yes!  In addition to distributing things, a good estate planning should:

  • Include instructions for passing your values (religion, education, hard work, etc.) in addition to your valuables.
  • Include instructions for your care if you become disabled before you die.
  • Name a guardian and an inheritance manager for minor children.
  • Provide for family members with special needs without disrupting government benefits.
  • Provide for loved ones who might be irresponsible with money or who may need future protection from creditors or divorce.
  • Include life insurance to provide for your family at your death, disability income insurance to replace your income if you cannot work due to illness or injury, and long-term care insurance to help pay for your care in case of an extended illness or injury.
  • Provide for the transfer of your business at your retirement, disability, or death.
  • Minimize taxes, court costs, and unnecessary legal fees.
  • Be an ongoing process, not a one-time event. Your plan should be reviewed and updated as your family and financial situations (and laws) change over your lifetime.

What happens if I don’t have an estate plan?

If you don’t have an estate plan, the state has one for you…and you and your family will be stuck with it.

At your death: If you die without an estate plan, your assets will be distributed according to the probate laws in your state. In many states, if you are married and have children, your spouse and children will each receive a share. That means your spouse could receive only a fraction of your estate, which may not be enough to live on. If you have minor children, the court will control their inheritance. If both parents die (e.g., in a car accident), the court will appoint a guardian without knowing whom you would have chosen.

At disability: If your name is on the title of your assets and you can’t conduct business due to mental or physical incapacity, only a court appointee can sign for you. The court, not your family, will control how your assets are used to care for you through a conservatorship or guardianship (depending on the term used in your state). It can become expensive and time consuming, it is open to the public, and it can be difficult to end even if you recover.

Would you like these matters be handled by your family, according to your instructions…or by the courts? Would you like to control who receives what and when…or leave it to the state? If you have young children, would you like to control who’ll raise them if you can’t…or will a judge’s selection do?

Additional Estate Planning Questions & Answers

Yes.  Nearly everyone has an estate, including you.

Your estate is made up of everything you own— your car, home, other real estate, checking and savings accounts, investments, life insurance, furniture, personal possessions. Whether large or modest, everyone has an estate and something else in common—you can’t take it with you when you die.

When that happens—and it is a “when” and not an “if”—you probably want to control how your assets are given to the people or organizations you care most about.

To ensure your wishes are carried out, you need to provide instructions, stating to whom you want to leave your assets, what you want them to receive, and when they should receive it. In the process, you’ll want avoid taxes, legal fees, and court costs.

That is estate planning—making a plan in advance and naming whom you want to receive the things you own after you die.

Does a good estate plan do anything other than distribute my assets?

Yes!  In addition to distributing things, a good estate planning should:

  • Include instructions for passing your values(religion, education, hard work, etc.) in addition to your valuables.
  • Include instructions for your care if you become disabled before you die.
  • Name a guardian and an inheritance manager for minor children.
  • Provide for family members with special needs without disrupting government benefits.
  • Provide for loved ones who might be irresponsible with money or who may need future protection from creditors or divorce.
  • Include life insurance to provide for your family at your death, disability income insurance to replace your income if you cannot work due to illness or injury, and long-term care insurance to help pay for your care in case of an extended illness or injury.
  • Provide for the transfer of your business at your retirement, disability, or death.
  • Minimize taxes, court costs, and unnecessary legal fees.
  • Be an ongoing process, not a one-time event. Your plan should be reviewed and updated as your family and financial situations (and laws) change over your lifetime.

No. Estate planning is not just for seniors and retirees, although people do tend to think about it more as they get older. It is for anyone with children, and provides for them in the event of parents’ premature death or disability.

Of course, none of us can predict when our day will come.  Illness and accidents happen to people of all ages.

No. Estate planning is not just for “the wealthy,” either, although people who have built some wealth do often think more about how to preserve it. Good estate planning often means more to families with modest assets, because every dollar is more precious to them, and they have the least to lose.

If you don’t have an estate plan, the state has one for you…and you and your family will be stuck with it.

At your death: If you die without an estate plan, your assets will be distributed according to the probate laws in your state. In many states, if you are married and have children, your spouse and children will each receive a share. That means your spouse could receive only a fraction of your estate, which may not be enough to live on. If you have minor children, the court will control their inheritance. If both parents die (e.g., in a car accident), the court will appoint a guardian without knowing whom you would have chosen.

At disability: If your name is on the title of your assets and you can’t conduct business due to mental or physical incapacity, only a court appointee can sign for you. The court, not your family, will control how your assets are used to care for you through a conservatorship or guardianship (depending on the term used in your state). It can become expensive and time consuming, it is open to the public, and it can be difficult to end even if you recover.

Would you like these matters be handled by your family, according to your instructions…or by the courts? Would you like to control who receives what and when…or leave it to the state? If you have young children, would you like to control who’ll raise them if you can’t…or will a judge’s selection do?

An estate plan begins with a will or living trust.

A will provides your instructions, but does not avoid probate. Any assets titled in your name or directed by your will must go through your state’s probate process before they can be distributed to your heirs. (If you own property in other states, your family will probably face multiple probates, each one according to the laws in that state.) The process varies greatly from state to state, and can become expensive with legal fees, executor fees, and court costs. It can also take anywhere from nine months to two years or longer. With rare exception, probate files are open to the public and excluded heirs are encouraged to come forward and seek a share of your estate. In short, the court system, not your family, controls the process.

No. Not everything you own will go through probate. Jointly-owned property and assets that let you name a beneficiary (for example, life insurance, IRAs, 401(k)s, annuities, etc.) are not controlled by your will and usually will transfer to the new owner or beneficiary without probate. But there are many problems with joint ownership, and avoidance of probate is not guaranteed. For example, if a valid beneficiary is not named, the assets will have to go through probate and will be distributed along with the rest of your estate. If you name a minor as a beneficiary, the court will probably insist on a guardianship until the child legally becomes an adult.

Yes.  A revocable living trust is preferred by many families and professionalsA revocable trust:

  • can avoid probate at death (including multiple probates if you own property in other states);

  • can prevent court control of assets at incapacity,

  • can bring all of your assets (even those with beneficiary designations) together into one plan,

  • can provide maximum privacy,

  • is valid in every state,

  • can be changed by you at any time; and

  • can also reflect your love and values to your family and future generations.

Unlike a will, a trust doesn’t have to die with you. Assets can stay in your trust, managed by a trustee you select, until your beneficiaries reach the age you want them to inherit. Your trust can continue longer to provide for a loved one with special needs, or to protect the assets from beneficiaries’ creditors, spouses, and irresponsible spending.

A living trust is more expensive initially than a will, but because it can avoid court interference at incapacity and death, many people consider it to be a bargain.

Yes. Planning your estate will help you organize your records and correct titles and beneficiary designations.

Would your family know where to find your financial records, titles, and insurance policies if something happened to you? Planning your estate now will help you organize your records, locate titles and beneficiary designations, and find and correct errors.

Most people don’t give much thought to the wording they put on titles and beneficiary designations. You may have good intentions, but an innocent error can create problems for your family at your disability and/or death. Beneficiary designations are often out-of-date or otherwise invalid. Naming the wrong beneficiary on your tax-deferred plan can lead to devastating tax consequences. It is better for you to take the time to do this correctly now than for your family to pay an attorney to try to fix things later.

If you don’t think you can afford a complex estate plan now, start with what you can afford. For a young family or single adult, that may mean a will, term life insurance, and powers of attorney for your assets and health care decisions. Then, let your planning develop and expand as your needs change and your financial situation improves. Don’t try to do this yourself to save money. An experienced attorney will be able to provide critical guidance and peace of mind that your documents are prepared properly.

Right now.

None of us really likes to think about our own mortality or the possibility of being unable to make decisions for ourselves. That’s why so many families are caught off-guard and are unprepared when incapacity or death strikes. Don’t wait. You can put something in place now and change it later…which is exactly the way estate planning should be done.

The best benefit is peace of mind.

Knowing you have a properly prepared plan in place—one that contains your instructions and will protect your family—will give you and your family peace of mind. Creating an estate plan may be one of the most thoughtful and considerate things you can do for yourself and those you love.