Minneapolis Estate Planning and Probate Lawyer Explains the Minimum Documents You Need to Protect Your Family
I sometimes hear comments like "I just need a simple will" or "Why can't I just get my will on the internet"? I want to be clear that a basic last will and testament cannot accomplish every goal of estate planning; in fact, it often cannot even accomplish the most common goals. This fact often surprises people who are going through the estate planning process for the first time. Or worse, the family left behind finds this out when they attempt to settle a loved ones estate. In addition to a last will and testament, there are other important planning tools which are necessary to ensure your estate planning wishes are honored.
Do you have a pension plan, 401(k), life insurance, a bank account with a pay-on-death directive, or investments in transfer-on-death (TOD) form?
When you established each of these accounts, you designated at least one beneficiary of the account in the event of your death. You cannot use your will to change or override the beneficiary designations of such accounts. Instead, you must change them directly with the bank or company that holds the account. It is crucial that you update these as life changes.
Special Needs Trusts
Do you have a child or other beneficiary with special needs?
Leaving money directly to a beneficiary who has long-term special medical needs may threaten his or her ability to qualify for government benefits and may also create an unnecessary tax burden. A simple vehicle called a special needs trust is a more effective way to care for an adult child with special needs after your death.
Conditional Giving with Living or Testamentary Trusts
Do you want to place conditions on some of your bequests?
If you want your children or other beneficiaries to receive an inheritance based on certain prerequisites (life events such as marriage or at certain ages), you must utilize a trust, either one established during your lifetime (living trust) or one created through instructions provided in a will (testamentary trust). You can further use a trust if you would like any assets remaining at the death of your beneficiary (spouse) to be given to someone of your choosing. This is a popular estate planning tool used for blended families.
Estate Tax Planning
Do you expect your estate to owe estate taxes?
A basic will cannot help you lower the estate tax burden on your assets after death. If you think your estate will be liable to pay taxes, you can take steps during your lifetime to minimize that burden on your beneficiaries. Certain trusts operate to minimize estate taxes, and you may choose to make some gifts during your lifetime for tax-related reasons.
Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship
Do you own a house with someone “in joint tenancy”?
“Joint tenancy” is the most common form of house ownership with a spouse. This form of ownership is also known as “joint tenancy with right of survivorship,” “tenancy in the entirety,” or “community property with right of survivorship.” When you die, your ownership share in the house passes directly to your spouse (or the other co-owner). A provision in your will bequeathing your ownership share to a third party will not have any effect.
Financial Power of Attorney
Do you need someone to assist with your financial matters if you're incapacitated?
Clients often respond to this discussion by explaining that they don't need to appoint a financial agent because they're married and all assets are jointly held. However, the largest asset in most of your estates is likely your retirement account and that is held only in your name. If your spouse ever needs to contact someone regarding your retirement plan, the company will refuse to speak with them without a Power of Attorney.
Medical Power of Attorney/Health Care Directive
Would you like to appoint the person who will make medical decisions on your behalf?
You are able to appoint someone to make your medical decisions if you can't by using a health care directive. Without one, that person (even a spouse) will be forced to go to court to be appointed as a guardian to make such decisions. This can be a costly and lengthy process.
As you can see, there are many things to consider to ensure you have a full and comprehensive estate plan.This is such an important topic that the New York Times published an article how important it is to have more than just a will in the September 5, 2014 issue.
Please contact a Minneapolis estate planning lawyer to help work through the details of your estate.