- Experienced estate planning attorney. Your estate plan will be one of the most important documents you create during your lifetime. Therefore, you should always seek out an experienced estate planning attorney to draft your documents. Estate planning is a very complicated area of law, so an attorney who does not specialize in estate planning many not have the requisite experience or knowledge to best represent your interests.
- Confirm you have all the necessary documents. An estate plan entails much more than a Will and Living Trust. Most estate plans, at a minimum, should include the following documents: Last Will and Testament, Living Trust, General Durable Power of Attorney, Patient Advocate Designation, HIPAA Release, Certificate of Trust and funding instructions. Many individuals, such as those who own real estate or business(es), will require additional documents.
- Ensure your plan is up to date. It is essential to have a current estate plan due to the frequent changes in tax law. Old estate plans may not accurately reflect current law and could fail to take advantage of current tax exemptions. Updating your estate plan to reflect current law could save your family time and money.
- Confirm that assets are properly titled to avoid probate. This includes titling assets in the Living Trust, updating beneficiary designations, and executing business transfer documentation. Assets that are not properly titled will not avoid probate court. Your financial advisor and estate planning attorney can assist with funding your Living Trust.
- Review successor trustees, personal representatives, attorneys in fact and patient advocates. Confirm that the individuals in your estate plan are still willing and able to serve your best interests. As time goes on, relationships with individuals or institutions may change and these changes should be reflected in your documents. Also, confirm that your family has the contact information for all individuals named in your plan to ensure smooth communication.
- Identify potential liability and exposed assets. If you are in a career with exposure to lawsuits, there are estate planning and business strategies that can protect your assets from creditors. Some careers with lawsuit exposure include business owners, doctors, dentists, attorneys, financial planners, accountants, real estate agents, pilots and more.
- Minimize potential estate tax, income tax, and capital gains tax. The three main forms of tax planning accomplished via estate planning are planning for estate tax, capital gains tax, and income tax. Estate tax affects a very small amount of the population, but income and capital gains tax affect almost everyone. You can minimize taxes for future beneficiaries by strategizing distributions and properly titling assets.
- Review the timing, amount, and beneficiaries of distributions. Confirm your estate plan has the ability to hold or distribute your assets until you want your beneficiaries to inherit. Some individuals want their beneficiaries to inherit immediately, others want their assets held in trust for the beneficiary’s benefit. Various reasons to hold assets in trust include, minor/young beneficiaries, individuals with special needs, individuals with bad spending habits and much more.
- Make sure that trustees, attorneys in fact, and patient advocates are aware of their responsibility. It can be helpful to inform the individuals in your plan of the existence of your documents and their respective responsibilities. These individuals should have the information of your attorney, financial planner, and accountant. Ensure that these individuals know where your documents are located and have access to the documents.
If you would like to schedule a meeting to review your estate plan, or if you have any questions, please call the attorneys of Wakefield, Sutherland & Lubera, PLC at (248) 457-9860.
*This article is meant for informational purposes only. Please recognize that nothing in this article constitutes legal advice. If you have any questions, comments, or seek legal assistance, please call one of the attorneys at Wakefield, Sutherland and Lubera, P.L.C.