Manual Who Gets What: A Guide to Estate Planning

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In a DPA for health care, you name a health care agent or proxy who makes sure that doctors and other medical professionals carry out your wishes if you are too sick to speak for yourself. Without it, privacy regulations in the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of may prevent health care personnel from releasing your medical records to your health care proxy.

Also make sure that your lawyer includes a clause in your living will and health care DPA stating that you give your health care agent the right to receive information about your health status and medical care under HIPAA rules. Your executor will remember you more fondly if you organize your estate-planning paperwork and financial records, and store them in a safe yet accessible place. Be aware that if your spouse or someone else is not the co-owner of your safe-deposit box, your executor may have to file a petition with the court for permission to open it.

Beginner's Guide to Estate Planning

Pull together any of the documents your executor will need, such as the deed to your burial plot; insurance policies; statements from your bank, brokerage house, and mutual-fund accounts; and pension and other employee-benefit information. Maintain an up-to-date list of your assets, the names and telephone numbers of your legal and financial advisers, and an inventory of the items in your safe-deposit box.

Store such documents at home in a locked, waterproof, and fireproof metal box, file cabinet, or safe. Do not forget about your digital assets, such as an online stock-trading account. Shulman, an estate-planning attorney in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. And finally, review your estate plan at least every five years. Make sure all of your documents still reflect your desires, and that your beneficiaries and financial and health care proxies are still willing and able to serve. In addition, you should revisit your estate plan if Congress revises the estate-tax law or whenever there is a major change in your life, such as a birth, death, marriage, or divorce.


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Some people who pay professionals to fill out their tax returns, mow their lawns, or color their hair cannot bring themselves to pay a lawyer to prepare an estate plan for them. An experienced attorney can use legal software more efficiently than you can. More important, he or she can offer customized solutions if your situation is complicated. Your needs are too complex for a do-it-yourself estate plan if you must provide for a disabled child, you owe estate taxes, or you own a business.

Consumer Reports tested three will-writing products in with the help of a law professor specializing in estates and trusts. We concluded that all were inadequate unless a very simple plan was required, such as one that leaves everything to a spouse, with no other provisions. Jacobs suggests a compromise. Start by getting referrals to lawyers with expertise in estate planning from your accountant or financial planner, or check the websites of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys for estate-planning specialists in your area.

Then call a few and ask how much they will charge, if anything, to meet with you for an hour and discuss your estate planning needs. After your consultation, some attorneys will quote a flat fee for an estate plan; others bill by the hour and will estimate how much time it will take to draft the legal documents you need. Concentrate on negotiating the lowest price you can with the lawyers you like the best. Get Ratings on the go and compare while you shop. Become a Member.

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Photo: DNY Step 1: Sign a will Photo: Mark Wragg. Step 2: Name beneficiaries It is important to understand that not all of your assets will pass to your survivors through your will, because some types of property do not go through probate. Step 3: Dodge estate taxes. Step 4: Leave a letter Sometimes everything you want to tell your survivors does not belong in your will.

Step 5: Draw up a durable power of attorney. Step 6: Create an advance health care directive To maintain control over the type of medical care you receive when you are near death, you should sign a living will and a DPA for health care. Step 7: Organize your digital and paper files. Photo: Mark Wragg. Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!

Frequently Asked Questions about Estate Planning

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A comprehensive guide to creating an estate plan.

Right now, if you were to take a sudden, unannounced vacation, do your partners or subordinates actually know how the business operates day to day, week to week? Do they know who your contacts and suppliers are, and when to reach out to them, and how?

Complete Guide to Estate Planning for Non-Lawyers

Do they know what your scheduled bills and other costs consist of? Regular ordering practices? Vendor agreements? More importantly, is there any way that they could intuitively find this information? If you pass away, your business will go into probate as the state determines which of your debts need to be paid via your various assets. There are ways to protect your business through estate planning, but without these legal safeguards in place, it is not uncommon for an otherwise valuable business to be liquidated to satisfy debts to the estate.

Depending on your assets and how they are separated and legally owned, your estate may be required to pay estate tax. Factoring a business into the estate can drastically raise this tax, which can put your heirs or successors on unstable financial footing from the start. An estate plan is no more and no less than an automatic plan of action that your heirs can use to preserve your business in your absence. Both wills and living trusts are instrumental in dispersing your assets to the correct heirs when you pass away.

However, these documents work very differently in a legal sense. Wills, by necessity, go into probate. Granted, having your estate go through probate with an iron-clad, well-written will means the process will be exponentially smoother than it would be if your heirs had to navigate probate without a will at all. Probate considers your assets, your debts, and your wishes for what remains of your estate after your debts have been satisfied.

A living trust is a very different beast. You can compare how a living trust functions to a corporation in that it is a different legal entity from the business owner.

Estate Planning 101 from Elder Law Attorney Sean W. Scott

Living trusts also have some other advantages, as outlined by the National Federation of Independent Business. Probate is an entirely public process—i. Bypassing probate is desirable for many reasons, including the resources it ties up, but the fact that it is fully public must also be taken into account. Living trusts, on the other hand, are private.

The upfront costs for a living trust will be far less than the time, legal fees, estate taxes, and court costs probate requires. The assets in the trust will become immediately available to your successors upon your death, so business can continue as usual. A buy-sell agreement is one tool that you can use as part of your estate plan to help your heirs deal with this complication.

Essentially, a buy-sell agreement encompasses the conditions and terms applicable for selling shares of the business. These agreements can be written many different ways, with a broad variety of different terms and conditions. Your attorney can help you and your partners figure out what kind of buy-sell agreement would most benefit the business and your heirs.

Your Guide to Estate Planning | Illinois State Bar Association

For example, it is common for such an agreement to mandate that the shares of a deceased partner or owner must first be offered to the other owners before being offered up for sale to an outsider. Buy-sell agreements can be helpful in a number of different situations that can cause trouble for small businesses. They are one of the most versatile and important legal tools at your disposal when planning the future of your business.

Their role in protecting your business goes beyond estate planning.

It's about more than just death.

They can also be written to trigger in the event of disability, for example, or when a shareholder simply wants to voluntarily depart the company. Buy-sell agreements can also reduce conflict when relationships outside of the business change, such as in the event of divorce. Of course, when relationships within the business change, they can also be helpful. There might be a disagreement between shareholders that leads to one leaving, or the business might even need to be dissolved.

Life insurance provides your heirs with a financial cushion that can be immensely helpful in the event that court costs or attorney fees are needed or if a hefty estate tax is imposed. It is also helpful if you have a buy-sell agreement in place, as it provides the funds necessary to carry out the purchase of your shares, if necessary.

This obviously requires some very specific documentation and contracts to be put in place, but this is what estate lawyers are best at. An unexpected loss of an owner can bring with it many unexpected costs and delays for a business. Life insurance can provide your heirs with the resources to overcome these unanticipated challenges and obstacles while the assets of the business may be stretched to their limit or tied up in court.

Before purchasing life insurance for yourself or on behalf of your partners, meet with an estate planning attorney to ensure that the you are protecting yourself and your business in the most practical way. Many people are unfamiliar with the various estate taxes that come into play after the death of an owner.