10 Reasons to Have an Estate Plan

Should I Have An Estate Plan?

GIF asking questions on if you have a will, and if it is sufficient.Estate planning is about much more than just avoiding probate. Or reducing taxes. Or creating a legacy. Planning for the future means planning for yourself, those you love and the things that are important to you. It means planning for your incapacity, as well as, your passing. It means planning to keep your affairs private. And, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to have significant wealth to have an estate plan. Everyone needs a comprehensive estate plan which addresses both life events and death.

Before reviewing 10 common reasons to conduct estate planning, and why everyone needs an estate plan, let’s first review some of the reasons why someone does not create an estate plan.

The 10 reasons to conduct estate planning reviewed below include privacy, life events, incapacity and planning to avoid probate at your eventual death.


Privacy Concerns

Your estate plan will give the person you want the authority to make decisions on your behalf, if you suffer a debilitating injury or illness that leaves you unable to make or voice decisions for yourself, whether those decisions involve your personal and health care matters or your financial affairs. With no plan, your loved ones may be forced to endure a potentially time-consuming and expensive court process in order to have a judge appoint a guardian or conservator to make decisions for you.


Estate Planning Reasons for Loved Ones with Special Needs

If you have a loved one with special needs who receives assistance or benefits through government programs, you probably know how important those needs-based programs are, and therefore how important maintaining eligibility is. Your estate plan can help you leave part of your wealth to your loved one with special needs, but structure it in a way that it does not interfere with your loved one’s continued qualifications for benefits and assistance. Without an estate plan, your loved one might be forced to make the choice between losing his/her eligibility for continued benefits or renouncing the receipt of anything from your estate.


Estate Planning to Avoid Intestacy

Everyone already has an estate plan. Either you have the one you created yourself or you have the one your state’s government created (probably many decades ago) and enshrined in your state’s statutes. Whether you have non-relatives you wish to remember in your estate, or a family member that you have decided to disinherit, or you just desire to have the control that comes with directing your legacy in a hands-on manner, creating your own plan allows you to customize your legacy and have the maximum level of control.


Estate Planning to Deal with the Unique Elements of Your Blended Family

Lots of families today look very different from the “Ozzie and Harriet” model of the 1950s. However, many state laws have not caught up with the world of the modern family. With an estate plan, you can customize your affairs to ensure that your estate will both provide for your current spouse and your children from a previous marriage. Without an estate plan, you could end creating a situation where someone could get an amount you did not desire, or could get unintentionally disinherited completely.


Estate Planning Reasons for Your Minor Children

Undoubtedly, caring for your children is one of the most important duties in your life. Part of making sure that you have provided for your children involves making sure that their needs are met if something happens to you. With an estate plan, you can inform the courts who you want to care for your children in the event that you (and/or your spouse) is unable to do so. With no plan, the judge must simply make her own determination about what is in the best interest of your children, with no input from you.


Estate Planning Reasons for the Continuation of Your Business

Many businesses, especially small ones, fail to survive past the first generation. Several of the these businesses fail due to a lack of planning. In your estate plan, you can deploy many tools to ensure your business goes on after you die. You can transfer your ownership interest to the person you believe is best equipped to carry on the business’s activities, whether that involves a direct distribution through your will or living trust, or the use of other tools (such as life insurance) to give a trusted partner or employee the option of purchasing an ownership stake in the business. A carefully crafted estate plan may also help your family minimize or avoid entirely a potentially devastating estate tax bill. With no plan, a lack of a clear succession or debilitating bills could prove fatal to your business’s survival.


Estate Planning to Avoid Probate

The process of administering a probate estate can be expensive and extremely time-consuming. The estate plan administrator is responsible for assimilating all of the assets, completing an inventory and appraisal of the estate’s assets, paying the debts and distributing the inheritances. In some cases, this can take many months or years and cost a significant sum of money. An estate plan with a properly funded living trust can allow your family to avoid the probate process completely. Some states have very short and simple probate processes, and a carefully crafted estate plan that properly uses non-probate transfer tools can help you ensure that you qualify for these simplified procedures, if you choose that path.


Estate Planning Reasons to Ensure Your Family’s Privacy

In many situations, probate estates are matters of public record. Anyone can view the details of your estate simply by traveling to the court clerk’s office and requesting your file. As examples, consider how many details the news media were able to acquire and publish, almost immediately, regarding the estates of stars like Robin Williams, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Whitney Houston. An estate plan with a properly funded revocable living trust may help your family avoid this potential pitfall and ensure privacy. The process of trust settlement, unlike probate administration, is not a public matter. This added layer of privacy can be enormously valuable when it comes to protecting your loved ones from financial predators.


Estate Planning to Protect Your Partner

If you are in a relationship that is (whether by personal choice or the limitations of the law) not recognized by the law, you have a particularly strong need for an estate plan. In most places, your non-spouse partner not only would receive nothing from you financially under the laws of intestacy, he or she also would be completely frozen out of making any decisions should you become incapacitated. This could result in your partner being forced to leave the home you share and possibly not even being allowed to visit you in the hospital. Your estate plan, with powers of attorney alongside a will and/or living trust, can avoid these nightmare scenarios by placing your goals of protecting your partner’s place in your life, in addition to his/her financial well-being, into valid and enforceable legal documents.


Estate Planning to Ensure You Have Control

As mentioned previously, you already have a plan. Either you have the estate plan you laid out, or the one the state has laid out for you in the intestacy statutes. Whether your financial affairs, family situations or privacy needs are straightforward or extremely complex, if you’re like most people, you’d prefer to have the satisfaction that comes from knowing that the legacy you ultimately leave behind for your loved ones is exactly the one you wanted to create.

Learn More About Planning With A Revocable Living Trust

  • What can a living trust do for me?
  • How does a living trust work?
  • Can I name the same person as trustee and sole beneficiary of the trust?
  • Wills and Incapacity
  • How can a living trust save on estate taxes?
  • I do not have a multi-million dollar estate; do I still need a trust?
  • Are there any disadvantages to a living trust?
  • Will a revocable living trust shield assets from Medicaid?
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