Estate planning deals with issues that are of enormous significance in all of our lives, such as the financial and medical care that we’ll need when we are vulnerable, or the legacy that we hope to provide to our loved ones when we’re gone. When asked, virtually everyone will agree that estate planning is critical – but as important as it is, most people have a very hard time taking the concrete steps needed to move forward with creating an estate plan. If your New Year’s resolution for 2019 is to get your estate plan completed, here’s a few things you can work on ahead of time so that you can confidently walk into the first meeting with your estate planning attorney.
Family Information. Here’s an easy way to start! You should make a list of your close family members, and include their current contact information. If you have a blended family, make sure to make notes about those particular family relationships.
Financial Information. For your attorney to give you the most helpful advice, you should make a list of all of your assets (such as bank accounts, investments, real estate, or business entities), and include information such as the names of any co-owners, any beneficiary designations you’ve set up, and estimated values. You should also include your notes about your debts, such as outstanding loans or mortgages.
Important Documents. Set aside copies of any important legal documents to bring to your meeting. These frequently include existing estate plan documents, pre- or post-marital agreements, trusts for which you’re a beneficiary, and organizational documents for any business entities that you own. Also, be prepared to discuss any existing life insurance policies and long-term care policies that you may have.
Medical Planning. There’s a lot to think about when it comes to putting an Advance Medical Directive into place. Many people will put off their estate planning because it is just too overwhelming to think about creating a Living Will, which gives your preferences for end-of-life decision-making. If this describes you, don’t let these issues keep you from starting the process. If you have an idea of the family or friends you’d trust to be your advocate, you’re on your way to having one of the most important pieces of your estate plan in place, and you can fill in the details of a Living Will with your attorney.
Trusted Family or Friends. Much of the estate planning process revolves around deciding who you would trust to manage your financial affairs for you during incapacity or for your family after your death. If you aren’t quite sure who would be a good choice, start with a list of the family or friends that you trust the most. This way, you can have a conversation with your attorney to help you weigh your options.
Guardians for Minor Children. For many people, choosing a guardian for minor children is the single greatest barrier to moving forward with an estate plan. There might be many different friends and family who you’re considering, and it can be tough to weigh the options and avoid hurting the feelings of family members who aren’t chosen for this role. But if you’re waiting to figure out which person would be the perfect guardian, you might end up waiting until your children are 18 years old! Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good, because if you don’t make this decision, a court will make it for you. Think about the options available to you – people who your kids are comfortable with, who have similar values, and who would be able to integrate your child or children into their lives. Once you’ve given this some thought, a discussion with your attorney can help narrow down your options.
Some people will go through the initial work to make these types of decisions for their estate plan, but still drag their feet – and much of the time, this is because they don’t feel 100% confident in their decisions. This is normal, but don’t let this trip you up for too long; you can always change your estate plan in the future, and being 90% sure of the decisions that you have made is always better than letting state laws dictate what happens to you or your family.
Jordana Guzman is an attorney with the Estate Planning practice group at Davis, Agnor, Rapaport & Skalny, LLC. For questions about this article or other questions about estate planning documents, please do not hesitate to contact Jordana at 410.995.5800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.