Is My Estate Plan Correct?
Estate plans are an integral part of your financial plan. They help you control decisions made about your finances and health when you are unable to make them on your own, and they allow you a certain level of control about your estate after you pass away. Estate plans that are in good order follow estate planning principles to do just that as well as incorporate a certain level of creativity about how you want your legacy to be carried out. Designing your estate plan involves a series of decisions made by yourself and collaborating with professionals to help you communicate those decisions in writing. While Trilogy does not in any way provide legal advice, we do work side by side with our clients as they solicit the necessary support to write a comprehensive estate plan. The following observations come from that collaborative professional experience.
Will or Trust?
The first decision to make is deciding between a will and a trust. Wills and trusts allow a certain level of control over how you would like your property to be distributed but depending on which one can also go far beyond that. A will spells out how you would like your property to be distributed. It also allows nominations for your executor and minor children. While a will enables you to have a voice after you pass, an important point is that it will not keep your assets immune from probate court. Even though you have designated beneficiaries and how you want property distributed, there can still be a court process which can be time-consuming, costly and above all-emotionally draining for your beneficiaries.
In comparison to wills, trusts differ in that they are actual legal entities. While both a trust and will spell out how you want your property distributed, trusts take it a step farther to let you customize how you want your property distributed, allow for control of how that property is used once distributed, and helps you avoid probate and can mitigate tax implications in a larger estate. For example, you can leave assets to beneficiaries with specific clauses such as ‘beneficiary must have a full-time job before accessing inheritance’ or ‘assets must be used for my grandchild to go to my alma mater for college.’ Implementing a trust involves navigating through complex tax rules and regulations. Therefore, consult an estate professional to help you build a trust strategy that is right for you.
Deciding if a will or a trust is appropriate for you comes down to several questions to ask yourself. How much control and customization you want to have over your estate? Are you comfortable with the possibility of your estate going to probate if you only choose a will? A common misconception about trusts is that they should be reserved only for use by the extremely affluent. This is not necessarily true, if you own a home and have retirement assets, a trust will help you have control over your present and future financial plan. Also keep in mind, wills and trusts are not mutually exclusive. While not everyone with a will needs a trust, all those with trusts should have a will as well.
Once you’ve made the decision between a trust or will, the next step in ensuring your estate plan is correct is to control decisions made about your health and assets if you are incapable of making them on your own. A durable power of attorney is a legal agreement that enables you to designate who will make your legal and financial decisions if you become incapacitated. Unlike the standard power of attorney, durable powers remain valid if you become incapacitated. If you become incapacitated, this person will be able to act as you to continue paying your bills and will be able to make decisions about how to pay for your healthcare.
On the healthcare side, a health care proxy acts very similarly to the durable power of attorney. You designate someone to make your healthcare decisions if you become incapacitated. These decisions can range from types of treatment and surgery to medical facilities.
In conjunction with durable power of attorney and health care proxy is your living will. This document can also be referred to as a directive to physicians or a health care directive. A living will outlines what type, if any, of life-sustaining treatment you will permit in the event of your incapacity. It is an agreement between you and the attending physician. The decision for or against life support is only one you can make but must be legally written down to follow through on your wishes.
Both the durable power of attorney and living will are crucial to an estate plan that is in good order for two reasons. First, they permit you to have a voice in your finances and medical treatment when you otherwise wouldn’t and second, they take the emotional weight off of your loved ones to make the decision for you.
More than Just Documents
As important as a fundamentally strong estate plan is proper communication with the people that are responsible parties. It is important to have open and honest conversation with the person whom you designate your executor, power of attorney and healthcare proxy. Discuss where you keep you financial documents and how to access them. And, introduce them to your financial advisor and estate attorney so they can establish a relationship prior to emotional end of life and critical medical decisions. These conversations can be hard at times to get started so work with one of your professionals to help you start the discussion.
Understanding if your estate plan is in good order should be a series of decisions and conversations that both outline how you want to live the end of your life and what you want your legacy to be. Work with professionals to help you answer the big questions of first deciding between a trust and will and second, how to outline what is important to you in these documents. Ultimately, an estate that is in good order is one where the owner knows what happens up to the point they pass away and what their legacy will be once they do.
Securities and advisory services offered through National Planning Corporation (NPC), Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser. Additional advisory services offered through Trilogy Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Adviser. Trilogy Financial Services, Trilogy Capital, Inc. and NPC are separate and unrelated companies.