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Communicating Your Estate Plans with Family Members

Five Key Facts About Comprehensive Estate Planning

Non-Traditional Estate Planning

Estate Planning for the Single Pennsylvanian

Initial Consultation with Estate Attorney

Estate Planning for People Under 35

Family Estate Planning Conversation

Wills and Child Custody

The Importance of an Estate Plan

Estate Planning for Everyone

Discussing about death and dying is challenging and certainly unpleasant. Nonetheless, there are matters associated with death and dying that need to be discussed with specific family members under certain circumstances. These include matters associated with estate plans.

Estate Plans: Information on the Basics

Even in situations in which you might elect not to share the specifics of your estate, you do need to make sure a family member or family members have some basic, essential information relating to your estate. The reality is that many people neglect to convey this basic information. This can have seriously negative consequences when a person passes away.

One of the key types of information associated with estate plans that must be conveyed is the location of key documents. A family member, or someone else you trust, must be advised of the location of documents like your last will and testament. In addition, the location of a life insurance policy is also important to convey. Someone in your family, or a trusted friend, should also know where you have a safe deposit box. You might even want to arrange for someone to be able to access a safe deposit box upon your passing.

Advising of a Role Related to Estate Plans

You need to advise a family member or friend if you’ve designated them to serve as the executor of your last will and testament. You cannot keep such a person in the dark about your desire for that individual to serve as your executor. Indeed, you should take the time to question the person about his or her willingness to serve your estate in this capacity.

Information About Legal Counsel

If you have an attorney who has assisted in developing your estate plans, you need to make sure a family member (or friend) knows who this individual is and how to make contact with that professional. There may be some value in arranging an appointment with your estate attorney and a loved one so they have at least some connection while you are alive.

If you are only now contemplating your estate plans, a Pennsylvania estate attorney will schedule an initial consultation with you. There is no charge for an initial consultation to discuss your estate plans.

If you are like many individuals, you’ve given thought to the need for comprehensive estate planning, but you’ve done nothing about it. You’ve talked about comprehensive estate planning, but haven’t spoken with an estate attorney. There are five key facts about comprehensive estate planning to bear in mind. Considering these facts may motivate you to schedule a prompt appointment with an experienced estate lawyer.

Comprehensive Estate Planning is Not Just for Wealthy Individuals

A common misconception is that comprehensive estate planning is only for wealthy, well-healed folks. In reality, nearly everyone benefits from comprehensive estate planning. The starting point is scheduling a consultation with an estate lawyer. There is no charge for an initial consult regarding the need for an estate plan.

Absent Comprehensive Estate Planning, the State Runs the Show

You must keep in mind that if you do not estate plan, the state runs the show when you pass away. Without an estate plan, the laws of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania dictate what happens to your property when you die. Your wishes, whatever they may be, become complete irrelevant.

Proper Comprehensive Estate Planning Can Protect Children Financially

If you have minor children, or if you have adult children who may not be the best money managers, estate planning is a must. Through a properly crafted estate plan, you ensure that your minor children are taken care of after you pass. A solid estate plan ensures that your adult children are taken care of but that they do not waste money or assets in a frivolous manner.

Comprehensive Estate Planning is Crucial for Non-Traditional Relationships

If you are in a non-traditional relationship, you must develop an estate plan. For example, if you live with your significant other, but are not married, you must have an estate plan in place. Once again, the absence of an estate plan in this type of situation results in the laws of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania determining where your property goes after death. Your significant other can be effectively locked out of receiving your property if you die without a suitable estate plan in place.

It’s Never Too Early to Start Estate Planning

You are never too young and it is never too early to begin comprehensive estate planning. Make an appointment with a qualified estate attorney today to schedule a no-cost initial consultation to analyze you specific needs, goals and objectives.

If you are in a non-traditional relationship, estate planning is a must. Non-traditional estate planning has become a major issue in this day and age, with so many people living in a wide range of different types of relationships. This particularly includes individuals who live together without the benefits associated with a traditional marriage.

The Reality of No Estate Planning

The stark reality of a lack of non-traditional estate planning is that when you pass, your loved one will not benefit in any way, shape or form from your estate. For example, assume that you’ve lived with your partner for years, decades even. You pass on. Despite the length of your relationship, despite the commitment to your significant other, all of your assets will pass so a family member or family members as set forth in the statutes of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Side Arrangements with Family Members are No Substitute for Non-Traditional Estate Planning

Time and time again, a person in a non-traditional relationship makes what can best be described as a side deal or side arrangement with a family member (or family members) in lieu of proper estate planning. A person requests that a family member “take care of” his or her significant partner when the individual seeking help from a relative passes away. The person asks a family member to make sure his or her relationship partner “gets my property” when death occurs. This may sound like you. And, if it does you are not alone.

The odds of a family member honoring your desires informally expressed in this manner are not guaranteed. Moreover, there are tremendous legal and tax consequences associated with this type of informal “arrangement.” In short, side arrangements with family members do not work. They simply are no substitute for bona fide non-traditional estate planning.

The Necessity of Legal Assistance

Estate planning for a person in a non-traditional relationship can be quite complex. Informal arrangements won’t work. In addition, it is crucial that the legal documents necessary to create a suitable estate plan properly are prepared. Therefore, if you are in a non-traditional relationship, you must be proactive and retain the services of a skilled estate attorney. An estate lawyer will schedule a no-cost initial consultation with you to discuss your options.

If you are unmarried and do not have children, you may be like quite a number of similarly situated people and have done little or nothing in the way of estate planning. This particularly may be the case if you are a younger adult.

The reality is that an adult is never too young to start thinking about developing an appropriate estate plan. In addition, even a single person has very real needs when it comes to estate planning. In other words, estate planning is not just for wealthy, older, married people with children.

Death without an Estate Plan

One of the key aspects of estate planning is ensuring that your last wishes are carried out. This primarily means that property and possessions end up in the hands of intended loved ones. In the absence of a will, there is a real possibility in many cases that this will not happen.

If a single person elects to forgo estate planning, the laws of Pennsylvania dictate who gets his or her property upon his or her death. A person’s actual desires become irrelevant, because they have not been appropriately set forth in a will or other type of legal instrument (like a trust agreement).

Estate Planning Focuses on the Here and Now

Some younger single Pennsylvanians tend to avoid estate planning because they don’t think it effects them today. They are focused on the here and now and think estate planning is something for older folks, something to be taken up at a later date.

The reality is that the one guarantee in life is that no one knows when death will come. Estate planning is focused on what would happen if you die in the immediate future. An estate plan is updated with regularity to keep it current.

Comprehensive Financial Planning

A single person, particularly a young single person, should not put off comprehensive financial planning. This includes planning for retirement. But, it also must include proper estate planning.

Financial experts routinely report that single Pennsylvanians, particularly younger ones, simply are not taking comprehensive financial planning seriously. A single Pennsylvanian is best served by having a comprehensive financial checkup that includes a discussion of retirement planning and consultation with an estate attorney.

If you have made the decision to either start the process of estate planning, or if you need to update your estate plan, an initial step in that process is to consult a qualified attorney. An estate attorney will schedule an initial consultation with you to discuss your estate planning needs, typically at no charge to you.

There are a number of factors to bear in mind when it comes to preparing for an initial consultation with an attorney. These include developing a list of questions for a lawyer, identifying your major assets or significant property, considering who you want your possessions to pass to upon your death and who you desire to oversee the distribution of your property.

Questions for an Estate Attorney

Prepare a list of specific questions you desire to ask an estate attorney during an initial consultation. By writing questions down, you will be less likely to forget raising a point that is important to you.

Itemizing Property

You do not need to inventory and itemize every piece of property you own in advance of an initial consultation with an estate attorney. (In reality, to estate planning purposes, you really never need to list each and every piece of property.)

Rather, in advance of a meeting with an estate attorney, prepare a list of property by category. This will allow you to have a more intelligent conversation with an estate lawyer about your particular circumstances, needs, goals and objectives.

Your Intended Heirs

Although you will not need a final list of who you want your property to go to upon your death, you should begin to at least assemble a preliminary list of these individuals. Having at least some idea of who you intend to benefit through a will or trust tends to be an important piece of information to share with an estate attorney during an initial consultation with that professional.

Selecting an Executor or Trustee

A key consideration to ponder before meeting with an estate attorney is who you desire to serve as the executor of your estate, if you intend to have a will drafted. In the alternative, if you think you will need some type of trust, based on your financial status and other considerations, you will need to make at least a tentative decision as to who you desire to serve as the trustee.

Oftentimes a person selects a trusted family member for one or another of these important roles. However, there are instances when a person elects an estate lawyer or some other third party fiduciary to serve in one of these capacities.

Estate planning is not only for older, wealthier individuals. Rather, financial experts and estate lawyers make it clear that it really is never too early to start the estate planning process. There are some key factors to keep in mind when it comes to estate planning for people under the age of 35.

Focus on the Essentials

When it comes to estate planning for people under 35, the basics – the essentials – typically are most important. Of course, there are instances in which a younger person accumulates a more significant amount of assets at an early age in life. However, that is the exception and not the rule. In those less common cases, a person will need a more complex estate plan.

The most common elements of an estate plan for people under the age of 35 include a will, a living will (or durable power of attorney for healthcare), and a financial durable power of attorney. In addition, at this juncture in life, a person needs to take a close look at obtaining appropriate life insurance. This particularly is the case if a person is married, in a committed relationship or has children.

Estate Planning for Today – Not some Future Date

When embarking on estate planning under the age of 35, a person oftentimes has a mindset based on some future date. This is not solid thinking. Rather, even when a younger person embarks on estate planning, he or she cannot think about some time down the road.

Estate planning, even for a younger person, needs to have a focus on the here and now. What that really means is that a person needs to develop a comprehensive, appropriate estate plan based on the possibility (no matter how remote) of passing away in the more immediate future.

With that objective noted, the need to regularly review an estate plan is imperative. Once a younger person has established a meaningful estate plan, he or she should review it at least annually.

Seek Professional Guidance

A person under the age of 35 need not go it alone when it comes to estate planning. Indeed, that is not advisable at all. A younger individual in need of an estate plan should retain the services of a skilled estate attorney.

Death and money represent two subjects that most folks do not want to discuss. This reality underscores the difficulty of a family estate planning conversation – both subjects come together in one discussion.

Despite the inherent challenges of an estate planning conversation with family members, it must be done. There are four tips to consider when contemplating an estate planning conversation with the family.

Take a Proactive Approach to an Estate Planning Conversation

Do not wait until a crisis exists to engage in an estate planning conversation with family members. Rather, a proactive approach is crucial. Select and time and place in which a conversation of this nature can be undertaken without the added burden of a sick family member.

Estate Planning Conversation in a Safe Environment

Select a safe and comfortable environment for an estate planning conversation. Being able to control the environment where this discussion takes place is another reason for taking a proactive approach. “The comfort of your own home” is a turn of phrase that illustrates the type of environment in which a conversation about estate planning issues occurs.

Be Prepared

In anticipation of a family estate planning conversation, it is important for the presenting family member to be well prepared. The basic objectives of an estate plan must be outlined. Ideally, an initial consultation with a skilled, experienced estate attorney occurs before the scheduling of this family confab.

Honestly Answer Questions

As part of being prepared for an estate planning conversation question, a person must also be ready to honestly and accurately respond to questions. If questions arise for which a person lacks an answer, that fact should honestly be conveyed to the questioner.

In addition, there may be some information that appropriately should not be shared with family members. As a result, precise boundaries should be established at the outset of a family estate planning conversation.

By engaging in a candid estate planning conversation with family members, these relatives will be both empowered and have a sense of buy-in to the estate plan itself. They will be in a better position to address estate related matters at the time the presenting family member passes away. Moreover, deficiencies that might exist in an estate plan oftentimes are realized and identified through this type of communication process.

The prospect of dying while a parent has minor children in the home is a grim thought. Fortunately, this is not a common occurrence. Nonetheless, it can happen – a parent with minor children can end up dying. Indeed, there are instances in which both parents tragically die in the untimely event, underscore the need to consider wills and child custody.

With this reality understood, parents need to make certain that their estate plans include a last will and testament that includes provisions for their children. Such provisions need to include the possibility that both parents pass and are not available to care for the children.

Wills and Child Custody: Financial Considerations

A key element of a last will and testament for parents with minor children involves ensuring that the minors properly are cared for financially. This typically includes the appointment of a person to serve as a guardian and conservator for the children – the establishment of a conservatorship being the vehicle through which the financial affairs of the children are managed.

Wills and Child Custody: Care of the Children

Parents of minor children should not presume that a certain person (or persons) will be able to take responsibility for the care of their children in the event of their deaths. Yes, it is possible that a close family member (like a child’s grandparent) will become the guardian of a child, other possibilities theoretically exist.

The best course to take to ensure that a suitable person (or persons) becomes the guardian of minor children if both parents are deceased is to designate such an individual (or individuals) in the wills of both parents. By making a will that includes this type of directive, parents can rest easier knowing that their children will be in good hands should the need ever arise for this type of guardianship.

Keep an Estate Plan Up to Date

Parents of minor children should make it a point to review their estate plans annually. This should be done with an eye to ensuring wills and child custody provisions remain appropriate and in accordance with the parents’ wishes and the prospective needs of their children. Circumstances may warrant a review more frequently than once a year. In any event, parents must be proactive in this regard.

According to data collected and maintained by the National Association of Estate Planners, a shocking 120 million adult Americans do not have an adequate or up to date estate plan in place. In other words, a majority of adult Americans run the risk of not having their wishes followed when the pass away. Moreover, a considerable number of these same people also face the prospect of paying more in estate tax and probate related fees because of their failure to properly plan.

There are a number of steps that people need to consider taking in order to ensure that they have a viable estate plan in place that meets their specific needs. The first step in the process is to consult an experience probate and estate attorney to determine what specifically is needed when it comes to developing a meaningful, effective and appropriate estate plan.

Write a Will

The most basic, fundamental step a person may need to take to craft a meaningful estate plan is to have a will written by a capable estate attorney. A will is an appropriate estate plan vehicle for many individuals who do not have the need to reduce estate related taxes and associated costs. A will ensures that a person’s wishes are carried out following death.

Review Beneficiary Designations

Another step that many people need to take as part of developing an estate plan is reviewing – and updating as necessary – beneficiary designations. For example, it is important to review life insurance beneficiary information to make sure it is up to date and reflects a person’s wishes.

Advise Family Members of Key Documents

Preparing estate plan related materials and instruments is all well and good. However, a person needs to make sure that trusted family members know where these and associated documents can be found. If they cannot be located when a person dies, it really as if these documents do not exist at all.

Make a Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney

As part of developing a comprehensive estate plan, a person is wise to discuss a durable healthcare power of attorney with an experienced estate lawyer. This instrument ensures that a person’s wishes are honored when it comes to healthcare decisions and medical treatments and procedures.

When many people hear the phrase “estate planning,” they presume that it doesn’t apply to them. These individuals quickly conclude that they lack the assets necessary to warrant estate planning. In fact, estate planning is for everyone who has a desire to leave things to loved ones when they pass.

Estate Planning: It’s Not Just About Dollars and Cents

Even individuals with a minimal amount of assets will likely have some idea where they want this property to go when they die. In some cases, a person will confide in someone they trust, telling that confident what they want done with property when that person passes away.

In the final analysis, telling someone else what a person wants to see happen with property upon that individual’s death just doesn’t cut it. The confident is under absolutely no legal obligation to carry out these wishes. Although there may be a moral or ethical obligation, that simply is not enough to ensure the appropriate distribution of assets at the time of death.

In other words, a person cannot simply say “I don’t have much, and I’m sure so-and-so will follow my wishes.” A person in such a position must take formal steps to ensure property goes where desired upon death.

Estate Planning from a Legal Professional

Although a person with significant assets may require a complicated estate plan, someone of modest means does not. There are some straightforward – and affordable – options available to a person who is most interested in ensuring that prized possessions end up in the hands of the intended individual. In many cases, when taxes are not a prime consideration, this objective can be accomplished through a last will and testament.

An estate lawyer can schedule an initial consultation to discuss the specific options available to a person with a more modest amount of property. There typically is no fee charged by an estate attorney for this type of meeting.

Through an initial consultation, an estate lawyer will also lay out what the creation of a last will and testament is going to cost. Typically, an individual who desires to make sure his or her wishes are met after their passing finds the cost associated with the proper preparation of a will to be a most reasonable investment – an affordable option. In the end … estate planning really is for everyone.