It’s easy to think of estate planning as a “someday” task you’ll eventually get around to completing, but accidents and illnesses can strike without warning. If you haven’t taken the time to plan ahead, your loved ones could be put at risk.
Elements of an Estate Plan
A comprehensive estate plan includes these key documents:
- Last Will and Testament. Your will names an executor for your estate and discusses how you’d like your property to be distributed.
- Guardianship designations. If you are a parent, your will can also be used to name a guardian to care for your children after your death. However, a better option is often to name a standby guardian. This person’s authority is activated by your illness or incapacity and can be revoked if your condition improves to the extent that you are able to resume caring for your children.
- Power of attorney for finances. This is the document that gives the person of your choice the authority to pay bills, deposit checks, and make financial decisions if you are unable to do so.
- Power of attorney for healthcare. Similar to the power of attorney for finances, the power of attorney for healthcare names a person who can act as your healthcare proxy to make medical decisions on your behalf if you can’t speak for yourself due to injury or illness.
- Advance healthcare directive. Sometimes referred to as a living will, this document outlines your views on what type of end-of-life medical care you wish to receive—including decisions regarding mechanical ventilation, blood transfusions, tube feeding, and palliative care.
A trust is not always necessary as part of your estate plan, but creating a trust can help you avoid probate, reduce taxes, protect assets, and ensure that your heirs use their inheritance in the way that you intended. There are several different types of trusts, but a revocable living trust is the most common.
Effective Estate Plans Are Personalized to Fit Your Unique Needs
There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all estate plan. Some of the variables you’ll need to consider when creating your plan include:
- The age of your spouse. When there are significant age differences between spouses, you must be careful to ensure that the younger (and presumably healthier) spouse will be able to maintain their standard of living in the years to come.
- The age of your children. The younger your children are, the more support they’ll need after your passing. You will need to choose a guardian for children under 18, and you may want to create a trust that ensures your children will have funds for their daily expenses as well as costs related to postsecondary education.
- If any of your heirs have special needs. Disabled individuals can’t inherit money directly without risking a loss of the government benefits that provide medical care and other services. You will need to create a special needs trust to distribute any planned inheritance.
- The complexities that come with being part of a blended family. If you are a stepparent or have children of your own from a prior relationship, additional steps must be taken to ensure that inheritances are distributed fairly. Without proper planning, you can experience undesired outcomes such as having assets you wanted to pass to your biological children be inherited by your stepchildren.
- Your relationship with your “chosen family.” It is becoming increasingly common for people to have friends or unmarried romantic partners they consider to be like family. An attorney can help you make sure these individuals are provided for in your estate plan.
Working with an experienced estate planning attorney provides peace of mind by ensuring no key detail has been overlooked when creating your planning documents.
Effective Estate Plans Need to Be Updated as Your Circumstances Change
Please keep in mind that estate planning is an ongoing process. As your circumstances change, your plan needs to be updated. Some of the common reasons to consider updating your planning document include:
- Divorce or marriage
- The birth or adoption of a child
- A family member’s sudden disabling illness
- A substantial increase or decrease in income
- Moving to a different state
- Purchasing property in a different state
- Estrangement or a change in relationship with one of your heirs
- A desire to name a new executor, trustee, or guardian for your children
Even if you believe your circumstances remain the same, it’s a good idea to have your plan reviewed every three to five years. Tax laws are constantly evolving, and it’s possible there may be changes that leave your assets vulnerable.
Are You Ready to Talk to a Georgia Estate Planning Attorney?
It’s understandable if estate planning brings up some complex emotions, but the Ward Law Firm is here to make the process as stress-free as possible. We take pride in our ability to give our clients honest and objective advice while suggesting effective ways to protect their assets and their loved ones. Call us now at 770-383-1973 or use our online contact form to request a consultation to discuss your estate planning needs.