What is an estate plan? My husband and I own our apartment, but we don’t have a lot of income or assets. Do we really need a Last Will and Testament?
The answer to whether you need a Last Will and Testament is an emphatic yes! A will is part of your overall estate plan, which simply means that you have put the documents in place to ensure that your needs and your family’s needs are met during your lifetime and upon your death. A thorough and comprehensive plan typically includes not only a will, but also advanced directives such as a healthcare proxy, living will, and power of attorney. For some people, but not everyone, a revocable or irrevocable trust may help meet the individual or couple’s objectives and concerns.
An estate plan lays out how your assets are to be distributed upon your death through a will or trust, and designates the individual or individuals you want to handle your financial and health matters during your lifetime through the use of a power of attorney, a healthcare proxy, and living will.
The best place to start is to inventory and analyze the extent and nature of your assets. This includes your home, second homes, business interests (yes, even if you are a sole member of your company!), cash, stocks, bonds, annuities, retirement savings, and insurance policies. The next step is to consider the following questions:
• Who do you want to act as guardian for your minor children if you and your spouse both passed away (or were both incapacitated)?
• Who do you want to make medical decisions on your behalf if you were unable to do so?
• Who do you want to handle your financial affairs if you were to become incapacitated?
• When you die, how do you want your assets distributed? If you have children, at what age would you want them to receive the principal assets?
• Who would you want to administer and distribute your assets upon your death?
Even if you do not have the answers to each of these questions, you can start the process, and an attorney can help you evaluate your choices and make a decision. If you already have an estate plan in place, you should review it every few years or after major life developments, such as the birth of a child (or grandchild), after a divorce, the death of a spouse, a decline in health, or significant change in financial circumstances, or any of the above occurring in the life of one of your selected fiduciaries. Different issues arise throughout your lifetime, and changes in the law may occur which impact your plan.
By addressing these issues now and implementing an estate plan, you can avoid placing unnecessary stress and confusion on your loved ones in a time of crisis. An estate plan states to your family members and beneficiaries how you would want things handled in a crisis or at your death, or even when you are no longer able to state those wishes for yourself. Being clear about your intentions can prevent lengthy and costly legal battles, and preserves family harmony.
Alison Arden Besunder is the founding attorney of the Law Offices of Alison Arden Besunder P.C., where she assists new and not-so-new parents with their estate-planning needs. Her firm assists clients in New York City, Nassau, and Suffolk Counties. You can find Besunder on Twitter @estatetrustplan and on her website at www.besunderlaw.com.