What is Estate Planning?
Thinking about what will happen when you’re no longer around can be both scary and overwhelming. To make things simple, you can boil estate planning down to two distinct processes: disposition of your assets and preparation for incapacity. In other words, an effective estate plan answers two questions:
Who gets what when I pass away?
Who will make decisions for me when I can no longer do so?
Of course, everyone’s estate plan should be specifically tailored to their individual needs. Throughout our preparations, I’ll help you to analyze your particular circumstances, identify your estate planning objectives, and plan for possible changes if your situation were to change in the future. Then, I’ll apply my knowledge and experience with wills and trusts, tax law, probate law, and real estate to help you craft your ideal estate plan.
Let me handle the nuts and bolts, and you can rest easy knowing that your future is secure.
WILLS AND TRUSTS
A will contains your final instructions for who will inherit your assets when you die, as well as who will administer your estate. Not only are you dictating what will happen to your stuff, but you’re ensuring that your friends and family will have a smooth process when it comes to administering your estate. If you were to die intestate (without a will), the laws of your state would dictate who inherits your assets, regardless of your wishes. Compared to administering the estate of someone who left a will, administering an intestate estate can be more costly and time consuming. That's why you can think of a will as a gift to your loved ones – it makes the probate process much simpler and easier for them.
Similarly, a trust is a legal entity that can hold money and property in its own name for your benefit or that of your family or a charity. A trust can be a useful option because the properties and funds it holds will not have to go through probate and will be immediately available to your beneficiaries. Additionally, it can be managed according to your wishes following your death (e.g. awarded to your children when they reach a certain age). There are extra costs associated with creating and managing trusts, so they may not be useful for everyone, but they can represent a valuable strategy in certain situations.
If you’ve been putting off drafting your will, you’re not alone. In 2020, only 32 percent of adult Americans said they already had one. But as uncomfortable as it is to admit, you never really know when you will need it. Give yourself one less thing to worry about by getting your affairs in order today!
LIVING WILLS AND POWERS OF ATTORNEY
In addition to deciding what will happen when you are no longer around, estate planning involves planning for your own care in the event that you fall seriously ill or experience reduced mental capacity. There are two main factors to consider here.
First, you need to decide who you want to make medical decisions for you in the event that you are too sick to make them yourself. With a living will and medical power of attorney, you can name the individual you would like to be in charge of those decisions. Additionally, you can use these documents to express your wishes ahead of time and avoid any guesswork on the part of your designated decision maker.
Secondly, you need to decide who you want to be in charge of your finances. With a general — or financial — power of attorney, you can name a trusted individual who will be able to access your accounts, pay your bills, and make financial decisions for you if you can no longer do so yourself.
Like a will, assigning powers of attorney is a gift you’re leaving for your loved ones. It gives them peace of mind that they are making the correct decision as opposed to guessing what you want or arguing amongst themselves.
BUT I'M TOO YOUNG FOR A WILL
Nobody is too young for a will. Unexpected deaths happen, and the last thing you want to do is compound that loss with a stressful probate process. My sister passed away last year at the age of 49, completely unexpectedly. She had no will, and as a result, the court process to settle her estate has been long, costly, and difficult. A will is a gift to your loved ones, simplifying the process of administering your estate after you are gone.
I DON'T HAVE MANY ASSETS. SHOULD I EVEN BOTHER?
Yes! Even if you are a person or couple of modest means, you will still have stuff that you want to control after your passing. The cost of getting a will does not have to be expensive, and remember that if you don’t have a will, state law will control who inherits your possessions, regardless of your wishes.
SERVING THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY
As a gay man, I am proud to serve the LGBTQ+ community, and estate planning can be especially important for those of us in the community. Still too often we have relatives who are not supportive of us and will not respect our wishes. For instance, I had a friend whose partner of 15 years passed away without a will. His partner was estranged from his conservative family, but because they were his relatives they inherited the house, the 401(k), and everything else, and ignored his wishes that my friend be taken care of. With a will and proper powers of attorney, you can ensure that your assets and decision-making power go to your “chosen family,” as opposed to your unsupportive relatives. But even for those of us in the community with supportive family, there are many nuances when it comes to estate planning for LGBTQ+ people; let me be your guide in the estate planning process.