June 11, 2012
Lerch Early's Legal Update
Many people, especially new parents, put off having an estate plan prepared because they feel the task is daunting. However, most people need only to collect documents they already have on hand and to make a few decisions to begin the estate planning process. In addition, taking the time to reflect on your goals and assemble your information in one place will help your attorney serve you efficiently and effectively, saving you time and money.
Initial preparation consists of gathering and organizing the biographical and financial information that the estate planner will need to assess what types of planning alternatives are appropriate based on your circumstances and goals. People who are just getting started in their careers and have young families tend to have very different estate planning needs than individuals with considerable wealth or whose families have people with special needs. Gathering and organizing this information before you meet with an estate planner saves you time because you are less likely to need multiple meetings. Many estate planners will give you a list of documents and information they need before the initial meeting.
Making Decisions About Health Care and Finances
Preparation also includes deciding upon whom you want to make your health care and financial decisions for you if you become incapacitated. While a spouse, domestic partner, or significant other might be an obvious first choice, selecting one or more backup individuals is a good idea. You should obtain current contact information for anybody whom you wish to serve in these capacities, because the documents used to make these appointments include contact information. For more information about powers of attorney, visit www.lerchearly.com, keyword “POA.”
Choosing Your Child(ren)’s Guardian(s)
Clients with children under 18 should consider whom they want to serve as guardians for their children if both parents die. Many parents nominate siblings or other family members, but there are additional considerations that can complicate the decision. For example, if you want your brother and his wife to serve as guardians, would that choice change if your brother became divorced or a widower? Further, if funds are to be set aside in trust for the minor children, should the trustee be the guardian or another person? An estate planning attorney can help guide you through these issues, but thinking them through in advance is another timesaver.
The issue of “who takes care of the children” often is a stumbling block in preparing a plan, so parents should be aware that it is important to make and document a choice, even if they think they might change it later. In the absence of a testamentary direction, a judge will decide who gets custody of your children and who will make financial decisions on their behalf. Parents can update their wills at any time, so making an initial choice with the intent to revisit it at a later time is one way to make sure your children are protected.
The purpose of your estate plan is to make sure your wishes about your health, your finances, and your children are documented and carried out in the event of your incapacitation or death. These tips should make it easier to get your plan in place.
Alex Tanouye is an estate planning and probate attorney at Lerch, Early & Brewer in Bethesda, Maryland who often guides new parents through the estate planning process, which includes the preparation of wills, revocable trusts, powers of attorney, and advance health care directives. For more information about estate planning, contact Alex at (301) 347-1269 or firstname.lastname@example.org.