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Things to Consider Before You Start Your Estate Plan

TdD Attorneys at Law Feb. 8, 2022

According to Caring.com’s 2021 Wills Survey, the pandemic has raised the level of awareness of the need for estate planning, but mostly among younger Americans, aging 18 to 34. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans with a will in place is still hovering about 33 percent.

The top two reasons given for not having a will in place were: “I haven’t gotten around to it yet” (34.2 percent) and “I don’t have enough assets to leave anyone” (28.1 percent).

Executing a will, more formally known as a last will and testament, is the basic building block of estate planning. As indicated above, many people equate estate planning with people who live behind gates and drive luxury automobiles; however, anyone who works and accumulates possessions – which is just about everyone – needs to consider planning for the future of themselves and their loved ones.

For those in St. Louis or Chesterfield, Missouri, who would like to learn more about the importance of estate planning, contact me at TdD Attorneys at Law.

I can meet with you, discuss your needs and hopes for the future, and help get you started on estate planning. Even if you already have a will or other estate planning document in place, I can review it with you. Life changes, and wills and other planning instruments need periodic updating.

What Is Estate Planning?

Estate planning means taking a look forward and making sure that both you and your family are taken care of in any contingency. As the pandemic has taught us, there are no guarantees in life, and anything can happen at any time.

A will, or a living trust, is a means to provide for your loved ones should something happen to you, but you will also need to have a contingency plan in place for yourself. Here you must create a health care advance directive, which specifies which treatments you would like to receive should you become incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself.

A will and living trust both accomplish the distribution of assets to named beneficiaries, differences being that a will is supervised by a judge in a probate court while a living trust is administered outside of court. In both cases, you have to name someone to administer your wishes. In a will, that person is called a personal representative, in a living trust, a successor trustee (you are the trustee while alive).

Considerations in Drafting an Estate Plan

There are many considerations in estate planning that start with you and your family. There may be other considerations as well, including your legacy. You may want to make a charitable contribution in your name when you are gone, and you can set up a charitable trust for that.

If you have minor children, you may need to name a guardian for them, so a court does not do it in your stead. You may have a child who needs constant medical care because of a physical or mental condition, and you need to set up a special needs trust.

Here are some important considerations and steps in estate planning:

Identify the goals you want to achieve. The above discussion gives you an overview of the scope of estate planning. Careful estate planning can help ensure not only your family’s future well-being but yours as well. You can use a power of attorney to name someone to manage your affairs if you become incapacitated (you can also use a living trust) or are out of the country, perhaps on a military call-up, and cannot personally manage your affairs. Each person’s situation is unique, and there are legal options for every situation.

Survey your assets and obligations. Start collecting data on your assets, from real property like homes and cars to treasured mementos, so you can assign them to beneficiaries whom you would like to receive or share in them once you’re gone. Remember, anything in joint titles, such as a home, or anything with a named beneficiary, such as a retirement annuity or life insurance plan, will transfer outside of a will or trust. Consider your debts as well, as your obligations must be satisfied when the will or trust is executed.

Consider who you want to administer your will or trust. In either a will or trust, you should name someone to carry out your desires for you. This person is called a personal representative in a will and a successor trustee in a living trust. When you’re gone, this person will be entrusted with administering the distribution of your assets. A will does not take effect until you pass away, so to prepare for the possibility of incapacitation, you may want to grant someone a power of attorney to take care of your affairs if something happens. The successor trustee in a living trust is automatically empowered if you become incapacitated.

Consider your health care choices and to whom to entrust them. Speaking again of incapacitation, should you end up in a hospital unable to speak for yourself, it is beneficial to have your treatment choices in advance. This can be done through a living will or health care advance directive, which is popularly associated with “do not resuscitate” orders, but you don’t have to choose that option. You can cover every aspect of end-of-life treatment. You will also need to name a health care representative empowered to speak for you and let your choices be known.

Consider the needs of minor children. If you have minor children you care for on your own, you need to name a guardian should anything happen to you. Otherwise, a court will appoint one. You can only name a guardian in a will, not in a trust. If you have a child who will need constant medical attention, you can dedicate funds for that purpose in a special needs trust, which will enable your child to receive public benefits that can be supplemented by your allocation in the trust.

Getting the Experienced Legal Support You Need

The above discussion only covers the essential aspects of estate planning. Each person will have different needs and goals, and literally, there is an estate planning instrument to achieve anyone’s objectives.

With my knowledge and experience in helping individuals and families plan for the future, please feel free to contact me at TdD Attorneys at Law if you’re in St. Louis or Chesterfield, Missouri. I can seek to create an estate plan that fulfills all your objectives.