Planning for Peace of Mind
1. Seek an experienced estate lawyer.
You’ve worked hard to build your family’s security. When considering the long-term future of your nest egg, your team of advisors (see Q&A on Page 4) should include a lawyer with specific expertise in estate planning. Only someone with this skill set will be able to accurately spot the relevant issues, understand your objectives, and advise you on how best to meet them in light of the complex laws that surround this field.
2. Invest in a comprehensive approach.
An estate plan is more than just a will. Everyone should have a health care proxy and a durable power of attorney. These two documents allow you to designate someone to make your health care and financial decisions, respectively, in the event you are unable to do so yourself. Look for a legal advisor who is attuned to these and other key details.
3. Sign your documents.
A beautifully drafted estate plan prepared by your lawyer does no good if you never sign it. Far too often people delay (for months or even years!) signing the very documents they paid to have created. Unsigned documents are not worth the paper on which they are written.
4. Communicate with your family and beneficiaries.
Disputes can arise when heirs are surprised by the contents of an estate plan. The good news is that it is easy to minimize the likelihood of conflict. How? Have a conversation with your heirs and beneficiaries to let them know the basic provisions of your plan, as well as whom you have selected to perform the various jobs involved (e.g., executor, power of attorney, health care proxy) and why. That way they will not be confronted with a reality that differs from their perception.
5. Make regular updates to your plan.
Because your finances, the law, and your own circumstances are dynamic, the best practice is to regularly amend your plan. For your own peace of mind, take time to review and, if necessary, revise your documents every three to five years. In addition, you’ll want to continually update your durable power of attorney since some banks won’t accept documents that are more than a year old.