By Debra Verni, Esq.
For many people, mapping out an estate game plan is something they intend to think about later. But often, later never comes.
The reasons for not dealing with estate planning now may include not wanting to confront your mortality or create family conflict. Or perhaps you don’t want to discuss money with your heirs or give your wealth to certain family members you do not trust. For many, estate planning is simply viewed as something only “elderly people” need to do.
Despite all the reasons some people come up with to avoid estate planning, there are many benefits that make it worth the time, effort and money. Among other things, an estate plan allows you to:
1) Name someone to administer your finances and make medical decisions if you become incapacitated.
2) Name a guardian for your minor children.
3) Plan for the future long-term care needs of yourself, your spouse and family members with disabilities.
4) Manage your assets during your lifetime and ensure assets go where you want them to go after death.
5) Protect assets for your surviving spouse, children, grandchildren and other beneficiaries from creditors, re-marriage, or potential divorce proceedings.
6) Minimize estate, income, and capital gains taxes placed on your assets or estate.
7) Avoid the cost and delay of probate, litigation or other court proceedings.
8) Pass on your family’s values, history, culture, traditions and wisdom to future generations.
9) Provide small business owners protection during their lifetime and a succession plan for the management, sale or transition of the business due to your retirement, disability or death.
10) Create a lasting legacy through charitable donations, family foundation or other planned giving strategies.
To begin the process the first step is to review your assets so you know what needs to be allocated. Subtract your total liabilities from your assets to get your net worth. Identify potential tax problems so you can determine a course of action to minimize them. Decide who your fiduciaries and beneficiaries will be, recognizing that this may change along with circumstances of your life.
Your estate plan should include a last will and testament, trust, durable power of attorney, health care proxy/living will and perhaps an ethical will.
Remember to tell the executor or personal representative, and other trusted persons close to you, where your documents are kept.
Remember, your needs and wishes often change as life evolves. Consult with your estate planning attorney on a regular basis about keeping your documents up to date. A little proactive planning today will help reduce the emotional and financial burden on your heirs in the future.
Verni is a partner at the Herzog Law Firm, PC with offices in Saratoga Springs, Albany and Kingston.