By: Andy Peebles
Let’s kick off the new year by tackling a topic that gets people excited: estate planning! Believe it or not, estate planning is an area in which I greatly enjoy working. This twisted sense of enjoyment is due primarily to the fact that I get to provide peace of mind to my clients and guide families through some pretty difficult conversations. I have the opportunity to remove burdens from families and give them confidence that they, and their loved ones, will be cared for during periods of death or disability. This allows clients to move forward with confidence and focus on activities that bring them more enjoyment.
While estate planning can sometimes seem daunting, it doesn’t have to be. In basic terms, estate planning is the process of providing, in advance, for the proper management and disposition of your assets in the event of your death or incapacity. Everyone has something in common—no matter how large or small it may be, you can’t take your estate with you when you die. Why not plan for your family’s well-being while you are healthy and clear-minded?
If you’re still not convinced, consider some of the benefits of an estate plan. A good plan ensures that your final affairs are handled according to your exact wishes, rather than a court to decide for you. It ensures that your financial and health care decisions will be honored, even during incapacity. Minor children will be cared for and protected. Proper planning can avoid the requirement of your estate going through the probate process, which can be expensive and burdensome for your family. You can reduce taxes and protect your assets from unforeseen creditors. Some plans may even address issues of succession for family businesses or provide for a family member who cannot manage his or her financial affairs (due to disability or poor judgment). And maybe most importantly, a good estate plan will provide you with peace of mind and reduce the financial and emotional burdens on your loved ones following your death.
It is never too early to begin thinking about an estate plan, but there are certain life events that increase the urgency to explore your options. For example, when children enter the picture, you will want to explore the use of a Revocable Trust to ensure that those children are provided for financially, ensure their inheritance is protected from creditors or bad decisions, and provide for the guardianship of minor children in the event you are no longer around to care for them. If you have substantial or unique assets (like a business), you will need to ensure those assets are protected from creditors, minimize taxes, and ensure that you’ve outlined a succession plan for the ownership of any business assets. It is also important to remember that estate planning is not only for the elderly or wealthy. Every single person should at a bare minimum have a durable power of attorney for financial and health care decisions in place to plan for possible incapacity.
Once you’ve organized your estate plan, it can be tempting to stick your plan in a drawer and forget about it. However, it is important to periodically reevaluate your plan to accurately reflect the changes of life. Marriage, divorce, the birth or death of a beneficiary or trusted advisor, a substantial change in your assets, the purchase or creation of a business, and changes in the law are just a few of the life events that will require a review and potential update of your existing estate plan to ensure your wishes are accurately reflected and carried out.
Everyone, regardless of age or financial status, requires some level of estate planning. Some plans may be extremely simple, while others may require a bit more effort. The value of an estate plan goes far beyond the time and money it can save your loved ones once you are gone; it also provides assurance that those individuals will be taken care of when you are no longer around. Hopefully, you now have a better idea of the estate planning process and are prepared to have this important discussion with your trusted legal advisor. Start off the new year by checking this important task off your list. I can promise that 2023 will be much more enjoyable when you are less concerned about the future and more focused on the things that make you happy.
Andy Peebles is an estate planning and business attorney with the law firm of Carnahan Evans PC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.