Engaging the Inevitable: Considering Your Estate Plan

Nobody wants to think about the end of life, but everyone experiences it.  Having a solid estate plan in place before you get to that point can give you peace of mind that your wishes will be honored, both for your own end of life care and for distribution of your property after your passing.  Estate planning attorney George E. Martin, Esq., joined Holm & O’Hara LLP in July 2015.  He answers some essential questions about estate planning. 

What is the purpose of an estate plan?

As the name suggests, the purpose is to plan, as best you can, for what occurs after your death.  It’s important to ensure that whatever your plan is, it accurately reflects your wishes.  Whether it’s to provide for your children and grandchildren, ensure the growth and succession of the family business, or care for a cause through charitable giving, your plan should reflect your wishes.  A properly-constructed estate plan can maximize the value of your estate that is distributed to your heirs and minimize the amount lost to taxes.

What is involved in an estate plan?

An estate plan often will include provisions and documents that will address 1) what happens to your property and assets upon your death; 2) who can make medical decisions for you upon your incapacity; and 3) who can make financial decisions for you upon your incapacity.  If you have minor or special needs children, an estate plan can also address who will take care of your children, both physically and financially.

What are the hallmarks of a solid estate plan?

A solid estate plan is one that you understand and one that accurately reflects your wishes.  Depending on  your needs, an estate plan can become complex.  However, your estate planning attorney should be able to ensure that you understand the plan.  Your attorney should help you navigate the complexity to understand how it helps you accomplish your wishes.

Is there a best time to create an estate plan?

There is not really a “best” time for an estate plan.  Even once you have created it, changing circumstances may require adjustments, like having a child or a grandchild, getting married or divorced, selling a business or real estate, or changing tax laws.  However, the sooner you plan, the better you can address unforeseen circumstances for you and your family.

What are the most common misconceptions about estate planning?

Many people think of estate planning as relatively inflexible.  However, unless your plan includes strategies like making irrevocable gifts, you are not locked into what you decide today. In actuality, it is more beneficial to have a plan in place that can be adjusted at a later time to address any changes.

What are the biggest mistakes people make in estate planning?

By far, the biggest mistake people make is not having a plan.  Contemporary estate planning includes end of life directives, so even if you don’t have a lot of property, a solid estate plan can protect your wishes.  Once you start owning property, a plan increases in importance; in the Northeast, a house or apartment can have significant value and your estate plan can ensure that value goes where you want it to go.  Another mistake is not to revisit the plan periodically.  Particularly, as your financial circumstances or your core relationships change, you may want to make some alterations.  Perhaps surprisingly, one of the biggest mistakes people make is to leave everything up to their attorneys, sometimes to the point where they don’t even understand the plan or its parts and what they are intended to do.


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