5 Essential Estate Plan Must Haves
You’ve drafted up a will, so you’re all set, right? Wrong. Having a will is a good first step, but to really ensure that you and your family are secure, you’ll want to go over the 6 estate must-haves detailed in this article. 6 in 10 American adults do not even have a will. The good news is that percentage of older Americans (above the age of 72) that number jumps up much higher, to 81%[i] but that still is leaving a lot of things undecided for a lot of folks. If you are behind on your estate planning think of it this way- it’s not just a will it’s naming guardianship if you have children and it’s naming power of attorney if you become unable to manage your finances or health care needs. Estate planning is going over your beneficiaries and creating trusts. While it may be unpleasant thinking about death, the peace of mind that comes with have all the paperwork in place and knowing your wishes will be known is worth it. So, let’s go over 5 items you will need to prepare.
- Wills, Trusts, and Beneficiaries
Everyone should have a will, regardless of their tax bracket. Your will makes clear how you would like your property and assets distributed. Keep in mind that the beneficiaries named in your will should be consistent with those named on insurance policies, IRAs, and anything else would transfer at the time of your death. When drafting your will, it’s a good time to go over and amend any of those designations, especially if you have divorced or had children since you initially set them up. Beneficiaries should be mentally competent and over the age of 21, otherwise courts may have to intervene. Establishing a trust for your heirs may be a good option to avoid estate taxes or legal disputes down the line. The goal is to make a clear document, that is consistent and clear in its intent. This will lessen the chances that the document would be contested.
- Durable Power of Attorney
1 in 10 Americans over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s dementia.[ii] That number isn’t to scare you as much as make you aware that you may, at some point in your lifetime, be in position where you need help managing your affairs and finances. Better to name a durable power of attorney (POA) now, then have one elected in your time of need or have a court decide what happens to your assets. The document gives your POA a lot of power, they can make real estate transactions, financial transactions, and legal decisions as if they were you. A durable power means that it can be revocable, meaning depending on the situation you may get the power back if deemed competent or at the time of your death, when your will would make the decisions. Typically, a spouse functions as the POA but, in some cases depending on health or situation, another person, like a trusted family member, friend or advisor act as agent.
- Healthcare Power of Attorney
Like a POA to handle financial and legal matters if you were unable, names a healthcare power of attorney (HCPA) will help you if you are unable to advocate for yourself medically. It’s important to designate someone you trust and who shares your values, as this person could literally be put in life or death positions. You should have frank discussions with this person to make sure your desires are known. You should also name a backup HCPA in case the first was unavailable.
- Guardianship Designation
Did you know that 60% of parents do not have a named guardian for their children in their will?[iii] If you have children or plan to, picking guardians is essential. If a guardian is not named and something happened to you, your children may be tied up in the courts to decide where they go. Make sure the guardians you elect share your views, values, are financially stable and, are actually willing to take on the responsibility. Like the HCPA above, its good practice to name a backup guardian if the first was unavailable.
- Letter of Intent
To make sure everything is clear, drafting up a letter of intent, which is then left to your beneficiary or executor is the last item on the estate essentials list. This letter is an overview of what you want done, how you want your funeral handled, and any other special requests or after-death details. The letter itself is not a legal document per se, but it can help to illuminate your wishes and help a probate judge make decisions if there was an issue with your will or anything is contested.
As you can see, there is a lot more to your estate than just drafting up a will. Understanding that your estate planning will also protect your interests and your children’s futures hopefully will bump it up your to-do list. It’s hard to think about death and may feel morbid to plan your funeral, but the truth is, the more you do now, the less you have to worry later. You can rest easy knowing that you will be taken care of if you aren’t able to make decisions for yourself, that your children will be secure, and that after you go, your wishes are met for the future. It’s not morbid to look ahead, it’s proactive.
About the Author
Carroll W. “Bill” Hayes, MBA, CFP® Mr. Hayes started his financial career at Merrill Lynch in 1989. In 1992, Bill left Merrill Lynch for Fidelity Investments. During his career at Fidelity Investments he held roles in various divisions of Fidelity. Those roles included positions in the Trust, 401(k), Brokerage, and Money Management divisions. Bill held management positions at Fidelity and in 2001 led a Private Access team based in Boston. In the Private Access role his responsibilities included managing a book of business in excess of $3 Billion and a client base that was international in scope.
In 2008 Bill established Charles Carroll Financial Partners. The firm is an Independent FeeOnly Financial Planning and Investment Management firm. Charles Carroll Financial Partners embraces its fiduciary responsibility to its clients.
Bill is a graduate of Marquette University, and holds an MBA from the Sawyer School of Management. Bill holds the designation, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER, and currently presides as a Commissioner on the Disciplinary and Ethics Commission of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. Bill resides in Massachusetts with his wife Christine and travels up and down the East Coast meeting with clients of the firm.