This may seem like an unusual time to consider your estate plan. However, if you do not have a Will and/or Trust or if the estate plan you have has not been updated within the last 5 years, it may be the perfect time since you may be at home and following the Governor’s recommendations for remaining safe and healthy during the COVID-19 crisis. Too often, decisions about our estates are put off until there is an actual health emergency. In most cases, that means you may be too late to effectively address the issue. We can help you set up an effective estate plan, even during the crisis which is currently gripping California, the United States, and the rest of the world.
The most important reasons to consider an estate plan are to save time and money. Should you pass away without a will or a trust in place, your family could be tied up for months while the court determines the status of your assets and decides the proper way to distribute those assets. This process is known as “probate” and can cost thousands of dollars. This is not necessary and could put your family in serious financial jeopardy, particularly if you are the primary breadwinner.
Gathering Your Documentation and Thoughts
This is a perfect time to look at your investment portfolio, review your retirement accounts, and consider what assets need to be distributed in the event of your death. This can help avoid problems among family members and loved ones, at a time when they are already mourning your loss.
This is also a good time to consider as the right plan for your specific estate planning needs. Whether you have an extensive investment portfolio, multiple pieces of real estate or a very simple estate involving only your home, a few personal treasures and your retirement accounts, your plan must be customized to meet your specific circumstances.
What Estate Planning Tools Are Suitable to Meet Your Goals?
Before your estate plan is put into place, it is important to understand the tools available to meet your needs. The most common estate planning options include:
- Wills — for those who have a simple estate, a Last Will and Testament may be all that is necessary. Simply put, a will directs a specific person, known as the executor of your estate, to distribute any non-retirement or life insurance benefits to one or more beneficiaries of your choosing. For retirement plans and life insurance policies, you should check your beneficiary designations and make sure you have the beneficiary you want on file.
- Trusts — if you have a more complex estate, a Revocable Trust may be more suitable. There are different types of trusts which can be designed to meet your specific needs. For example, if you have a family member who will need financial support after your death and you wish to contribute to that support, a special needs trust can be established. We can discuss your unique situations and help you determine the type of trust right for you and the needs of your family.
- Powers of Attorney — Most Powers of Attorney lose their authority upon your death. However, prior to your death should you become disabled or incapable of taking care of your own financial or health matters, these documents are extremely important. We can help you make sure these issues are addressed and someone you trust is making decisions on your behalf.
- Advanced Health Care Directive — you are entitled to make your own health care decisions pertaining to your care. However, if you are incapable of communicating these decisions, you need to make sure they are in writing and someone is aware of your wishes. We can help you craft the appropriate documentation to ensure your wishes are fully executed in the event of your disability or inability to communicate.
- HIPAA Release — this form is required when you turn over healthcare decisions to a third-party. This release allows your medical team to discuss your health, your medical care, and your prognosis with someone you direct.
Anyone considering an estate plan, regardless of the timing should also be aware there are significant differences in your estate plan whether you choose a will or a trust. While a Will becomes part of the public record after your death because it must be filed with the Probate Court, a Trust keeps all your financial information private.
It is also important to note having a trust is almost always a much faster way to settle your estate since it does not need to go through the courts. We have had clients who have opted to use a trust because it is more effective, timelier, and in some cases, much more cost-effective.
Another part of an effective estate plan is tax planning. We can work with you to help minimize the amount of taxes which may be part of the distribution of assets from your estate, leaving more to your loved ones.
Estate Planning During Lockdown
We know this is an unprecedented time. While we normally schedule estate planning sessions in our office, we also understand the importance of remaining safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. We can help you feel safe by discussing your estate plan using modern technology. We can schedule all appointments via teleconference using secure technology.
Once we have your full plan in place, we will provide the relevant documents for review and make sure they meet your expectations. We will discuss any changes you wish to make and, if necessary, forward revised drafts, at no additional cost to you.
For those documents which require notarization, we will be prepared to have our local notary visit your home (taking proper precautions) and have all documents properly notarized. We are taking all the necessary steps to keep our clients safe
Please contact me, Steven M. Bishop, Attorney at Law and Certified Family Law Specialist, if you would like to get the ball rolling on your estate plan. In addition, you may contact me if you have any questions pertaining to an estate plan and why now is the right time to design a plan which works best for you and your family. Thank you for your consideration.