“Estate Planning” is a term that carries with it a lot of confusion. Some consider “Estate Planning” as something reserved for only the very wealthy with large inheritances and trust funds. Some see “Estate Planning” as too complex to worry about so they figure the government will handle it all later. The fact of the matter is that the term “Estate Planning” isn’t all that difficult to figure out. We all have an estate. Whether it’s large, small, or somewhere in between, we all have assets, debts, and people we care about. True “Estate Planning” is about handling these things ahead of time so that our loved ones don’t have to.
Joe has extensive experience in the world of Trusts, Estates and Estate Planning. Having “booked” (achieving the highest grade) his Estate Planning Seminar in law school, he gained a great deal of his experience working for and with other legal and financial professionals. Joe has rallied against the over use of “Living Trusts” in estate planning as a means by which to add unnecessary complexity to an individual plan. He has successfully sued those who attempted to use living trusts as a foot in the door to sell people unnecessary insurance products, holding them accountable and recovering funds lost by his clients. “Living Trusts are appropriate in certain circumstances, but they’re not right for everyone. Anyone who says differently is trying to sell you something.”
There is no such thing as a one-size fits all estate plan. All of us are different, and a proper estate plan should be tailored to meet the individual’s needs. At a minimum, we should all have certain basic estate planning documents in place, customized to fit our needs and properly executed. These include:
Your Last Will and Testament - which handles not only your assets, but also the most important decision a parent can make - who will care for my children in the event that I am unable to do so? Additionally, flexibility can be written into your Will so that children can receive distributions of your assets in stages, and not all at once.
A Durable Power of Attorney - A document that allows another to handle your financial affairs if you are unable to do so. A "Durable Power of Attorney" remains valid even if the person giving the power becomes legally incapacitated, at least until court proceedings are brought. Because your attorney in fact could handle most of your financial affairs should you become incapacitated, this type of power of attorney can help avoid guardianship proceedings. As with any power of attorney, this type ends at your death. You may also revoke it during your lifetime.
A Health Care Power of Attorney - A document that allows another to make decisions regarding your medical treatment if you cannot speak for yourself. Naming a specific person as your health care agent helps to avoid any potential conflict among family members, should there be a question as to which course of action regarding your treatment is to be taken; and finally
A Living Will - A statement by you as to whether or not you desire to terminate certain medical assistance in the event that you are deemed to be in a certain state. This takes a painstaking and difficult choice out of the hands of loved ones and places this burden solely on you.
These documents are at the center of a basic estate plan. Some people may need more than these documents in order to plan for taxes, family businesses, or even special needs of some children. But at the very least, all of us should consider having the basics in place in order to have that peace of mind, and to provide our families the stability they deserve.
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