Estate planning “to-do list”
By James Miskell, Attorney at Law
“For many of us, the task of putting together an estate plan is one of those “to-do’s that never seems to get done.”
It’s that time of year again. Yes, it is New Year’s resolution time. Is estate planning one of your “resolutions” for 2014?
We all know that an estate plan is a matter of personal responsibility. Only you understand your family’s priorities well enough to make the proper decisions. Legal and financial professionals are essential to understanding the best strategies, but the final decisions about what is right for your family can only be made by you.
The trouble is, you might know what needs to get done, and you might have put it on the master to-do list, but you still need to have the resolve to get it done. For many of us, estate planning is on the perennial to-do list.
No surprise, but “estate planning” ranks right near the top when it comes to the most frequently broken New Year’s resolutions. You might say it is somewhere between flossing every night and losing twenty pounds. Compared with many such resolutions, however, estate planning is an entirely unique challenge with consequences for failing to follow through.
So give this year’s resolution some legs!
Here are six basic topics to help organize your approach:
First, a health care power of attorney and living will allow you to appoint a person you trust be your health care agent and let them know in writing what your wishes are so that if you become disabled, he or she can speak with the doctors and make decisions to make sure that the treatment you receive is consistent with your wishes.
Second, a power of attorney allows you to appoint a person you trust to handle your financial matters in the event you become unable to do so.
Third, a will or trust allows you to specify what happens to your property when you die. Deciding which tools (wills or trusts) are right for your situation depends on your family’s assets and goals.
Fourth, checking the titling of assets is important. The way that your assets are titled affects the way they can and will be transferred to others. Knowing whether they are owned individually, jointly or in common is critical in making planning decisions.
Fifth, retirement and long term care planning means making a realistic assessment of the resources available for your support and care as you age. How soon you plan to retire and the state of your health will factor into your planning. Pensions, retirement accounts, social security, veterans’ benefits, Medicare and Medicaid as well as long term care insurance can all play a part and should be considered in your planning.
Sixth, having a conversation with your parents to make sure that they have addressed these first five topics may be difficult, but is important for your family’s financial and emotional well being. It is important to ensure that their wishes for care and medical treatment are known to family members so that siblings don’t end up arguing about “what mom would want” in the hallway of the hospital. Also important is discovering what additional planning might need to be done to provide for aging parents’ long term care. If additional resources are going to be necessary, the sooner the rest of family knows and can plan to help out, the better.
For many of us, the task of putting together an estate plan is one of those “to-do’s” that never seems to get done. Not planning has a funny way of becoming planning by default. This can lead to some painful results. There is no time like the present to plan for tomorrow. Make this the year that you take the steps to help secure your family’s future.
James M. Miskell received his law degree from the University of Georgia in 1993. His Asset Protection and Estate Planning Law practice is located in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He offers free educational workshops and consultations to assist clients as well as fellow professionals in creating individualized solutions.