I love October because I love fall! All the things – colorful leaves, pumpkin farms, cooler weather, Halloween, pumpkin spice lattes, fires in the fireplace – and my favorite, Estate Planning Awareness Week! As an estate planning attorney, this week is near and dear to my heart. In 2008, Congress recognized the need for everyone to understand the importance of estate planning by passing House Resolution 1499, which designated the third week of October as National Estate Planning Awareness Week.
According to a 2021 survey conducted by Caring.com, only 33 percent of adults in the United States have any estate planning documents such as a will or trust, even though about two-thirds viewed these documents as important. Some respondents said they didn’t have an estate plan because they were procrastinating, but others said they believe estate planning is only for the wealthy.
Who Needs an Estate Plan and Why?
The truth is everyone needs an estate plan because everyone has an estate. An estate includes anything a person owns—such as homes or other properties, bank accounts, investments, cars, and personal or sentimental items. Preparing for death or an illness is frequently not at the top of anyone’s “to-do” list. But failing to prepare can create a crisis for loved ones during an already emotional and difficult time.
An estate plan provides peace of mind by ensuring that your assets and legacy are protected, plans are in place if you become ill, your accounts and property pass according to your wishes, and your loved ones avoid a time consuming and expensive probate process.
What Are the Key Elements of An Estate Plan Do You Need?
- Do you have a last will and testament or a trust? If you do not have these important documents, state law will determine who will inherit your property—and it may not be who you want. Additionally, a court may appoint someone to care for your children or pets and to wind up your affairs, instead of a trusted person you choose. Spelling out your wishes in a will or trust will also prevent unnecessary confusion, anxiety, and expense for your loved ones when you are gone. For more information on the key elements of an estate plan, including wills and trusts, click here.
- Are the proper powers of attorney in place? A financial power of attorney designates a trusted person to make financial and property decisions (e.g., opening a bank account, signing a deed, getting your mail, etc.) for you if you cannot. A medical power of attorney designates a trusted person to make medical decisions for if you can’t speak for yourself. For more information about financial powers of attorney and medical or health care powers of attorney, click here.
- Ensure that you have an advance directive, also called a living will, which memorializes your wishes concerning your end-of-life care, such as whether you want to receive life support if you are in a vegetative state or have a terminal condition.
- Do you have insurance? If you become incapacitated (unable to manage your own affairs) or die, it is important for your family or loved ones to have information about your insurance (such as life, health, disability, long-term care, etc.) so they can file any necessary claims. Having the right amount of coverage is also important in case you become ill or die, leaving behind loved ones who rely on your financial support.
- Compile a list of all of your accounts and other important information that may be needed to manage your accounts and property while you are incapacitated or to settle your affairs after you are gone. Keep this information in a safe place and share the location only with trusted family members or other loved ones. This list should include at least the following information:
- bank and investment accounts
- titles to vehicles and homes
- credit card accounts or loans
- digital accounts (such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) and information on how to find the passwords
- Social Security card, passport, marriage license and birth certificate
- A list of legal, financial, and medical professionals who have performed services for you is also important. The list should include their contact information so your loved ones can easily reach. You should also have HIPAA authorizations in place with medical professionals to ensure that your loved ones can obtain needed information.
- For more information about what to include in an estate plan, besides documents like a last will and testament, trust and powers of attorney, click here to learn more about a When I’m Gone File.
How Can You Encourage Your Loved Ones to Create an Estate Plan?
Estate Planning Awareness Week is a great opportunity, not only to make sure your own estate plan is in place, but also to talk to your loved ones, especially elderly parents, about creating or updating an estate plan. Estate planning is often a difficult topic to broach because it brings the unpleasant topics of aging and death to the forefront of our minds. Here are a few tips to help you start the conversation.
- Be sensitive to your loved ones’ feelings. Put yourself in their shoes and keep in mind that most of us don’t like thinking about our own deaths. One compassionate way to begin the conversation is to talk first about health care desires – what do they want if they become too ill to speak their own wishes. This conversation can progress naturally to the importance of having an estate plan that will transfer their money and property how they want, provide for the care of loved ones including pets, and minimize taxes, court costs, and legal fees. Let them know you are not trying to control their decisions but only want to ensure that their wishes are known and carried out.
- Involve others in the conversation. If you are planning to speak to your parents about the need for an estate plan, try to include any siblings to avoid giving the impression that you are attempting to influence or control your parents’ choices. You and your siblings should emphasize to your parents that none of you is asking about what you will inherit, but rather just want to make sure that their wishes are carried out if they become ill or pass away.
- Consult an estate planning attorney. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you and your loved ones create or update an estate plan. They can tailor it to meet your unique needs and carry out your wishes.
We provide our clients with guidance and information about the options available to them. We create unique estate plans that prevent unnecessary stress, legal expenses, and taxes, as well as minimize disputes among loved ones, and avoid delays in passing on assets. In addition, the guidance we offer will give you and your loved ones the peace of mind that comes with knowing plans are in place for your care if you become ill and that your wishes will be honored when you pass away. Planning for peace of mind – that’s what we do.
Contact The Estate Planner LLC in our St. Louis office at 314-303-3218 to discuss for assistance preparing your estate plan and for any other questions regarding Estate Planning or Elder Law.
** The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements. This blog post is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice.
Written on October 15, 2022