For the 70% of Americans who do not have an estate plan, the article “Senior Spotlight: Composing the ‘family love letter’” from the Lockport Journal should help you understand why it is so important to set one up. One reason why people don’t take care of this seemingly simple task is because they don’t fully understand why estate planning is needed. They think it’s only for the wealthy, or that it’s only for old people, or that it’s only about death and taxes.
Consider this idea: an estate plan is actually about protecting yourself while you are alive, protecting your family when you have passed, and leaving a legacy for those you have left behind.
The main elements of an estate plan are: 1) create and execute documents that provide for incapacity and death, and 2) provide information about and guidance to help navigate your assets, liabilities and wishes.
You’ve spent a lifetime accumulating assets. It is now time to sit down with family members and have a heart-to-heart talk about the details of the estate and what your intentions are with respect to its distribution. The subject of death can be challenging for all. However, discussing your estate plan is vital if you want to protect your family from what might come after you are gone. Each family has its own goals, so it’s a good idea to talk about it frankly while you still can.
Even though these topics may be hard to bring up, not having those discussions significantly increases the chances of your family having conflict and choosing sides, assets not going where you had intended, and unnecessarily higher costs in taxes and legal fees.
If speaking about this is too hard, you may want to write your family a love letter. It would contain all the information that your family would need at the time of your death or your incapacity due to illness or injury. That includes a power of attorney, a health care directive, and maybe other documents depending on your situation.
Ideally, all this information will be located in one convenient place. Don’t put it on a computer where you use a password. If the family cannot access your computer, all your hard work will be useless to them. Put it in a folder or a notebook, that is clearly labeled and tell family members where it is.
They’ll need this information:
- A list of your important contacts — your estate planning attorney, financial advisor, CPA, insurance broker and medical professionals.
- Credit card information, frequent flier miles.
- Insurance and benefits including all health, life, disability, long-term care, Medicare, property deeds, employment and any military benefits.
- Documents including your trust, will, power of attorney, birth certificates, military papers, divorce decrees, and citizenship papers.
Think of these materials and discussions as your opportunity to make a statement for the future generation. If you don’t have an estate plan in place already or if you have not reviewed your estate plan in more than a few years, it’s time to make an appointment for a review. Your life may have not changed, but tax laws have, and you’ll want to be sure your estate is not entangled in old strategies that no longer benefit your family.
Reference: Lockport Journal (Feb. 16, 2019) “Senior Spotlight: Composing the ‘family love letter’”