Alan D. Feller, Esq.
Where should I start? Basics you need to include in your estate plan.
Estate Planning is the management of expectations. The hopes and dreams you have for those closest to you reside next to the expectations held by your family. You want your loved ones to have the support they need to succeed, but planning involves figuring out the path to your definition of success. Starting an estate plan usually corresponds to a major life event. Early planning may coincide with a new marriage or the purchase of a first home. The birth of a child also propels people to begin thinking about estate planning. Later planning may revolve around an illness. Whatever the timing, there are certain basic elements to an estate plan.
Two basic components of an estate plan are: the people who matter and the resources within your control. Who are your people? Children, spouse, siblings and friends usually round out the top 4 categories. Charities also qualify for inclusion, also pets. Resources include: real property, businesses, financial accounts, personal belongings, intellectual property, digital assets and any other holding owned by you that has value. Matching up these two components is estate planning.
Whether a Will or a Trust is your primary estate planning document depends on the quality and sometimes the quantity of the people in your life and your assets. For example, who will be in charge of your estate after you pass away? For Wills, executors carry out your wishes, collect estate assets, pay bills and distribute proceeds. If you have young children, basic planning involves choosing a Guardian. Should both parents predecease a minor child the chosen Guardian will assume caretaking responsibilities. A trustee to manage the finances of the minor child will also need to be chosen. Trustees and Executors are fiduciaries who are responsible for your assets. You should take great care in selecting these individuals because their decisions impact how your estate operates.
An estate plan is a recognition of the people who matter to you and the legacy you leave to them is your final act as a parent, spouse, sibling or friend. You alone get to decide how and when the resources in your estate get divided. After you select the people in charge of your estate, you prepare a set of instructions for them to carry out to ensure the best possible result according to your wishes.
Your estate plan may change over time. Preparing an estate plan early does not necessarily mean that significant changes are needed, but it is always wise to revisit a plan and see if there is a better way to achieve your goals. Wills can be changed and Revocable Trusts can be amended. Talking to the professionals at Sloan and Feller is one way to start the process.