Despite understanding the importance of having an estate plan in place, over half of all Americans do not have one. Moreover, many of those who do have a plan fail to update and/or expand their plan as needed. The reality is that estate planning can be intimidating and confusing. The best way to ensure that you have an estate plan in place that achieves all your goals and meets all your needs is to work with an experienced estate planning attorney. To help you get started, here are some questions you may want to ask your estate planning attorney.
- When should I start estate planning? By far, one of the biggest misconceptions about estate planning is that you need to reach a certain age, acquire a small fortune, or start a family before you need an estate plan. Every adult should have at least a basic estate plan in place without regard to age, wealth, or familial status.
- What should be in my estate plan? Almost everyone executes a Last Will and Testament first to act as the foundation of their estate plan. A Will allows you to appoint an Executor for your estate, decide what happens to assets you own, and nominate a Guardian for minor children if one is ever needed. Because incapacity can occur at any age, and because most people have strong feelings about medical treatment decisions, you may also wish to execute an advance directive which allows you to appoint someone to make healthcare decisions for you if you cannot make them yourself and even lets you make some decisions now that you might not be able to make at some point in the future because of incapacity. Your estate planning attorney can help you decide what other components should be included in your plan.
- When should I update my plan? A routine review should occur every three to five years until you get close to retirement age. In addition, if any of the following events occur you should check with your estate planning attorney to determine if an update is necessary:
- Marriage or divorce
- Birth or death of beneficiaries
- Change of fiduciary for any reason
- Children reaching the age of majority
- Move to a new state
- Changes in applicable laws
- Reaching retirement age
- Major change in assets
- Do I need an attorney to help me with my estate plan? With the pervasiveness of the internet, and the ability to find just about anything on the internet, it can be very tempting to use DIY estate planning forms located online. It may seem as though doing so will save you time and money. Unfortunately, the opposite is often the case – using DIY estate planning forms usually ends up costing your estate and your loved ones considerably more time and money than you saved by foregoing the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney. DIY estate planning forms frequently contain errors, are out of date, and/or fail to consider state specific laws or procedural requirements. Having a Will that is ambiguous, fails to distribute your entire estate, and/or is open to challenges because of errors or problems with the language contained in the Will is often worse than dying intestate in terms of the litigation that ensues during the probate process.
Please download our FREE estate planning checklist. If you have additional questions or concerns about estate planning, contact us at the Northern California Center for Estate Planning & Elder Law by calling (916)-437-3500 or by filling out our online contact form.