Many people fail to create an estate plan because they don’t truly understand what is involved and therefore believe it is too complicated. But the real truth is that creating an estate plan during your lifetime is far less complicated than what your family will deal with after you are gone if you don’t:
1. Create a Trust
When most people think of preparing for the end of life, they think of writing a Will, but having a Will without a Trust puts your family on the fast track to the courthouse after you are gone. Instead, to keep your family out of court, you’ll want to set up a Trust and title all of your assets to be owned by that Trust. While it might feel like a lot of effort, it will save your family a LOT of trouble after you are gone.
2. Designate beneficiaries
Designating beneficiaries for your retirement accounts and insurance policies is critical because these assets do not pass through your Will or Trust. Filling out beneficiary designation forms for each of your accounts will ensure these assets pass to the people you want to have them and stay out of the court system. Be sure to review your beneficiary designations periodically to be sure they align with your current circumstances. Hot tip: never name minor children as beneficiaries of your retirement account or life insurance policies.
3. Avoid estate taxes
Most of us will not have to worry about estate taxes since the federal estate and gift tax exemption is high and indexed every year for inflation. However, if you are married and wish to take advantage of portability – where spouses are entitled to each other’s unused exemption – the surviving spouse must file the required paperwork to claim the exemption.
Plus, Hawaii like some other states have state estate taxes, so you could still owe even if your estate is too small to owe federal tax. The big key here is to not just leave a set of documents that your family will have to figure out after you are gone, but give them the gift of a trusted advisor to turn to; contact me if you’d like to consider having me be that trusted advisor for your loved ones.
4. Leave a letter of instruction
Not everything you may wish to pass on to your heirs – like instructions for your funeral – should be put in your will or Trust. Leaving a letter of instruction with your family or attorney can ensure your final wishes are respected. And take it one step further with a Family Wealth Legacy in which you record your values, insights, stories, and experiences for your loved ones to refer back to for generations to come. I provide this service at no additional charge for my clients because I know this is one of the things families value the most and is least often handled.
5. Sign a durable power of attorney
Estate planning is not just about death, but also ensuring your family can handle things in the event you become incapacitated. Signing a durable power of attorney that designates someone to handle your financial affairs will save time, money and hassle for your family. Without it, they will have to go to court to have a guardian or conservator appointed to manage your financial affairs. This could cost tens of thousands of dollars and is easily handled with one simple document and a trusted advisor for your family to turn to in a time of need.
6. Create an Advance Health Care Directive
This document designates a decision-maker of your choice to make sure your wishes are followed when it comes to the medical care you want – or do not want – to receive when you are incapacitated or near death. You will also need to sign a HIPAA release form so your medical records can be released to your health care agent and medical professionals can discuss your medical care with that person.
7. Organize your paperwork and digital files
Since many of us live our lives online these days, make sure your executor has access to all your digital information, including website addresses and the log-in information for those sites. Put all your important paperwork – deeds, insurance policies, bank and brokerage statements, etc. – in one file and let your executor know where it is.
Bonus tip: If you have minor children at home (or adult children with special needs), don’t rely on naming guardians in your Will alone. Create a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan to ensure your children’s care is covered not just for the long-term, but for the immediate term as well and no one you don’t want raising your kids ever has a chance to take control.
Contact me about scheduling a Family Wealth Planning Session so we can sit down and talk about designing a plan that fits the needs of you and your family. Surprisingly, sometimes the less you have, the more important it is to plan.
This article is a service of the Law Office of Keoni Souza, LLC, an estate planning law firm in Honolulu, Hawaii. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by contacting our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.
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