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Frequently Asked Questions

What is estate planning?

Estate planning is the advanced preparation of directives so that in the event something happens to you, there is a plan set on how to distribute your assets. That plan includes identifying who receives assets along with when and how those assets are transferred.

I don’t have a lot of money so I don’t need an estate, correct?

This mindset is a misconception. An estate consists of your assets (things you own), minus your liabilities (anything you owe), plus any life insurance policies you have. Assets include any real estate you own, your business, your car, your bank accounts, your jewelry, your furniture, your airline miles and much more.

Why should I establish an estate plan?

Establishing an estate plan eliminates the burden of your loved ones having to manage the headache of distributing assets during an emotional time. Setting up an estate also allows you to control and plan your exact wishes and directives. 

What type of documents are included in an estate plan? How do I get started with the process of putting an estate together?

Each individual situation dictates the type of documents needed for estate planning. Here is a summary of the various documents that may be included in your estate plan:

Advance Directive for Health Care – valid only while you are living, this document appoints a designated health care agent for you if you cannot make medical decisions and captures your directives for how to proceed if something medically happens to you.

Financial Power of Attorney – valid only while you are living, this document can be made effective immediately upon signing, giving your agent power over your finances while you are competent. Alternatively, you can make this power valid only when a doctor deems you incompetent.  This power appoints an agent to make financial decisions (including paying bills) for you.

Revocable or Living Trust – this document uses your social security number until you are incompetent or deceased. Any assets inside this document avoid probate (the proving of the Last Will and Testament to the court).  This is recommended if you own real estate outside of the state where you live, if you have privacy issues (like a divorce), if you are older and may need more financial assistance in a relatively short time, and/or if you live in a state where probate is difficult (time-consuming and/or expensive).

Irrevocable Trust – this is a document where you are starting the trust now, while you are living, and it needs its own federal identification number. Unlike the Revocable Trust, where the Trustor (you) can amend, change, or revoke it at any time, this document cannot be changed by you. Typically, this document is used to remove assets from your estate and is most commonly used for life insurance.

Last Will and Testament – this is a document that disposes of all assets that are in your name (with certain exceptions) at the time that you pass. This document is taken to probate and then the court will give a letter of testamentary allowing the Executor/Personal Representative to distribute the assets.

What are some terms I should be familiar with when creating an estate plan?

  • Personal Representative/Executor – Typically this is a short term position (one year or less). The person is in charge of final income tax returns and estate tax returns in addition to probating and distributing the assets.
  • Trustee – This person is in charge of the trust monies. They can hire someone or manage the monies themselves and they are in charge of distributing assets per the trust document.
  • Guardian – This person is who your minor children (under age 18) or special needs children will be living with and who will act as their parent if you are gone.