An estate plan is the framework of arrangements, set up during an individual’s lifetime, for the administration of that individual’s assets and affairs when they become incapacitated or pass away. Estate planning is crucial, as well as periodically reviewing and updating the plan to keep up with any developments in life.
Reviewing and updating your beneficiary designations are one of the essential aspects of estate planning. A beneficiary designation will overrule the conditions of your trust or will. If you have a trust or will which gives to one individual but a beneficiary designation which gives to another, then the beneficiary designation will supersede. If you have recently undergone a divorce and you have a previous spouse named as a beneficiary, then upon your death, the assets will be granted to the former spouse. Be sure the beneficiaries named are the people who you want to receive your assets.
Having a Health Care Directive in place is another option to consider, as well. Health Care Directives (also known as Advance Directives) allow you to designate an agent or proxy who can act on your behalf if you become incapacitated. Having these legal documents in place guarantees that your wishes about your finances and health care are implemented. The two most significant documents in the Health Care Directives packet are the Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy. Naturally, there are other documents which can supplement your health care directives, including:
- The nomination of a guardian
- Living will
- Appointment of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains
If you do not have Advance Directives set up, your loved ones may have to go through costly and lengthy guardianship proceedings on your behalf.
Aforementioned, it’s essential to review your beneficiary designations. Still, it’s also important to consider your current plan as a whole and give thought to updating it in consideration of your specific circumstances. For instance, if you belong to the top 1% and own a taxable estate, you may consider benefiting from the lower interest rates of either creating a GRAT or QPRT. If your current family situation is making you unhappy and you’ve come to realize you don’t want them in your life and want your business kept private, a trust might be better suited for you than a will. On the other hand, if you are starting the year off as a new family or just had a new addition to the family, you might consider a basic will, Health Care Directives, and guardianship selection for the child. If you are buying or selling property, it’s essential to pay close attention to the changing tax laws to establish the most lucrative and tax-effective strategy.
When setting up a trust, remember that it is virtually empty until you add an asset to it, so it’s essential to fund your trust for it to be effective. Some individuals only set up trusts to avoid probate. However, you will not avoid probate if you do not fund your trust.
There are two fundamental ways to fund a trust: the first is to acquire Change of Ownership documents and transfer the assets into the name of the trust. Usually, people transfer ownership of their checking/savings accounts, brokerage, mutual funds, CD’s, and real property into their revocable trusts. The second is to appoint the trust as a beneficiary of an asset. Instances of when the trust is designated as a beneficiary are when the asset is retirement accounts or life insurance. Even though the trust does not take control of the asset immediately, the trust will take control immediately at the moment of the Trustor’s death.
Another option available to you is that you can create a digital asset plan. With this, you can guarantee that your family members or fiduciaries can access online accounts for numerous reasons, including but not restricted to accessing brokerage and online bank accounts to make sure bills have been paid and all subscriptions have been canceled, deleting sensitive data, and safeguarding photos and memories.
Digital estate planning is not as straightforward as listing screen names and passwords in your will. As a matter of fact, because wills become public when entering probate, listing that information in your will means that your social media and financial accounts would be endangered when your estate is admitted to probate.
The safest solution would be to create a digital estate plan that would list the information in a separate document but alluding to it in your will. Your executor could be granted the power to access and discard these accounts, or you could designate a different person as a digital executor to perform that task if necessary. Whatever it is you decide to do, it is essential to discuss these matters with a licensed estate planning attorney to assist you with decision-making.
Call Us for a Consultation and Start Planning Today
It’s never too late to start planning your estate. A lawyer can be beneficial with helping you streamline the process and ensuring that you are completely satisfied with the coverage that your estate plan provides you. Our team of attorneys has over 35 years of experience helping families plan for their futures. We welcome you to call the Voeller Law Firm at (210) 651-3851 to request a consultation and learn more about estate planning. We are proud to serve the greater San Antonio, Nexar Country, Comal County, Guadalupe County, and South Texas areas.
Our services go far beyond merely preparing – we do our best to help you protect your future.