10 things to consider when thinking about estate planning
A lot of people tend to postpone estate planning as long as they can, or they never get to it at all. However, even though it's unpleasant to think of one's mortality, it's always wise to plan ahead for the unexpected. If you have no estate plan in place at your death, you can cause many headaches for your loved ones. There are many important things to consider about what happens after you're gone.
1. Where do I want my assets to go?
This is usually the primary topic to think about during the estate planning process: Who should get my property when I'm gone? If you have a family, particularly children, you'll want to make sure they are provided for and don't have to worry. Even without a family, you should be in charge of deciding where your assets go. You might want to leave your property to a friend or even a charity. If you don't have an estate plan at all, your property will be distributed according to the laws of intestacy (dying without a will), and it might not end up where you would like.
2. What about my digital assets?
These days, a large part of our life is contained online, and it is an important part. Our social media keeps our pictures, videos, and communications with friends. We might have an online savings or investment account. If we own a business, it might have a website. Many people forget about planning for this aspect of our lives, which can make it difficult for a trustee or executor to sort through. At some point in the estate planning process, you should think about keeping a list of your digital assets, including your passwords, in a safe place. This will help the responsible parties more easily wrap up your affairs.
3. Can I disinherit someone?
California law assumes that you would want to provide for your spouse and children. If you fail to do so in your estate planning documents, the courts may consider it a mistake and grant them a share anyway. If there is someone you want to disinherit, you need to include language in your will or trust specifically stating that decision.
4. Who will take care of my minor children?
When the parents of a minor child die, the court will appoint a guardian over that child. If you want your wishes to be considered by the court, you will need to name a guardian (and at least one alternate) in your will. The court usually gives deference to the wishes of the parents in this matter. Make sure you choose someone who is responsible and willing to take on this role.
5. Who will take care of my pets?
If you have pets, you should also take their wellbeing into account when thinking about your estate plan. You can leave money for their maintenance and name someone to take care of them. You might even consider setting up a “pet trust” to provide for your pet's welfare.
6. Who should be in charge of distributing my assets?
You need to choose someone to act as trustee or executor over your estate. This person will be in charge of wrapping up your affairs and making sure your assets get where you want them to go. It should be someone responsible and trustworthy, and able to take on the responsibility. You can even choose a corporate trustee, like a bank, to perform this duty.
7. Who should handle my finances if I become incapacitated?
Estate planning involves more than just what happens after you die. If you become incapacitated, you won't be able to handle your financial affairs, such as paying bills. A good estate plan includes a financial power of attorney naming someone to act as your agent while incapacitated. This way, if something unexpected happens, your agent can act for you with minimal disruption to your life.
8. Who should handle my medical decisions if I become incapacitated?
Similarly, if you are incapacitated, you'll need someone to make medical decisions on your behalf. Your healthcare power of attorney should name someone you feel comfortable with making medical decisions for you. This may or may not be the same person as your financial POA.
9. What types of end of life decisions do I want made?
If you don't already know what types of end of life decisions you want made (i.e., whether you would want to be resuscitated), you should give this some thought. In your advance directive, you can provide guidance to your healthcare agent on the types of decisions you want made on your behalf. This can help eliminate the grief of trying to determine your wishes without such guidance.
10. What type of funeral arrangements do I want?
If you have a preference for cremation or burial, you should lay this out in your estate plan. If you want your remains to be disposed of according to your religious beliefs, this should be expressed as well.
Thinking about estate planning involves thinking about one's possible incapacitation or death. These are not pleasant topics to think about, which is why many people put off estate planning. However, thinking these issues through, and putting it on paper by drafting your estate plan, can spare your loved ones a lot of complication down the road. And don't forget: You can always update your estate plan later on if you change your mind.
Helix Law Firm can help with estate planning
We can help determine the best type of estate plan for your needs, and help you work through these issues.
If you're interested in learning more about how Helix can help, please call us at (619) 567-4447 to schedule a free consultation.