Yet, only about forty percent of Americans have a Will, and an even smaller number of people have a full estate plan.
What your Estate Plan needs to include, however, depends on your specific situation. There are a number of factors that determine what documents you need, and what strategies will best help you take care of your needs. When determining what kind of Estate Planning tools you need, Estate Planning Attorneys will often consider:
Life Stage: When I say “life stage” what I mean is, where are you in life? Perhaps you are an entrepreneur starting a new business. Perhaps you just got married, or just had your first child. Perhaps you finally have an empty nest after years of parenting. Perhaps your children are grown, and you are experiencing the joy of having grandchildren come into your life. Or, perhaps you are starting to notice that you and your friends are getting older, or that some of your friends are no longer with you. What type of planning you need will vary at every stage of your life, and that is a big reason why Estate Planning Attorneys don’t just have clients; they have lifelong relationships with their clients to provide help and guidance as circumstances change.
Family Makeup: The family unit these days looks a lot different than it used to. Gone are the days where a married couple lives happily-ever-after in that house with a white picket fence and the 2.3 kids. Today, families tend to be blended. Often, spouses have had children during previous relationships. With the change in family makeup comes a change in Estate Planning. Estate Planning Attorneys now must work with their clients to ensure that assets are distributed to children and step-children in a manner that is consistent with the clients’ wishes, because the law alone would often create a result that is very different from what the clients really want.
Estate Size: Whether you have a very modest estate, or your estate is valued in the seven, eight, higher figure numbers, you need to plan for what happens when, not if, you die. The size of your estate can have a significant impact on what tools and strategies you need to consider in your planning. For very large estates, you may need to consider lifetime planning to reduce your taxable estate and avoid giving almost half of your estate to the government when you die. For smaller estates, you will still want to consider who you trust to handle your estate’s financial affairs after you’re gone.
Your Goals: What you want to accomplish with your Estate is a very important consideration. People have different goals they would like to achieve. Some people want to leave money to their favorite charities. Others want to ensure that their children are taken care of but may be cautious about giving money outright. Some people just want to ensure that the assets they leave behind will always be available to their beneficiaries. Some people want to ensure that certain people don’t get anything from their estates. No matter what your goals, there are Estate Planning tools available to accomplish them.
Privacy: People often do not realize that your affairs after death are not necessarily private. When a probate is opened on an estate certain documents must be filed with the courts. These include your Will and a death certificate. Sometimes documents containing a list of all the assets owned by your estate get filed. Many of these documents are public records, viewable by anyone even if they don’t have an interest in your estate. This can result in undesirable situations where third parties seek to become involved in what should be a private family matter. If privacy is important to you, certain Estate Planning tools are available to help ensure that as little information as possible becomes public record.
No matter what stage of life you are in, what your family looks like, how big or small your estate is, or what your goals are, you need to do some planning to ensure that your estate is distributed the way you want it to be. How simple or complicated your planning needs to be varies, but the need to plan never does.