An experienced estate planning law firm prepares the legal documents you need to take care of yourself and your family as you age. If you own a home or have children or a spouse or partner, estate planning is just part of ensuring that you are all cared for. When you have a plan, no matter what the passage of time may bring, you know how to face your future. Let’s look at 11 essential estate planning tips for 2022.

How Does Estate Planning Protect My Family?

Estate planning allows you to make choices now so that the courts don’t make those choices for you later. Estate plans also help you think about potential healthcare needs if you become unable to make decisions on your own. In these cases, it’s crucial to have plans about medical interventions and someone you trust ready to step in and act for you legally. Estate planning law firms know the steps necessary to keep your family safe and prepared.

1- Making Your Last Will & Testament

It is a myth that you must be wealthy to plan your estate. Part of estate planning is drawing up your last will and testament. Writing your will allows you to plan for the future of your loved ones. You can decide now with a last will and testament who will inherit your assets.

Without a will, your assets are divided according to NC intestate law rather than your own decisions. Without a will, assets often surprisingly go to someone other than your spouse, including parents or children.

  • Nominate guardians for your children
  • Name an executor to handle your estate
  • Set up testamentary trusts so that your assets stay safe
  • Choose how your property will be passed on after you’re gone

Drawing up your will is an excellent tool to handle many affairs. Estate planning helps you make these essential preparations clear for all of your survivors so they can face their future with hope.

2- Considering a Trust

The words “trust fund” often bring to mind wealth. However, trusts are one of many legal tools attorneys use to achieve your goals. Trusts can offer unique protection for your assets by sheltering your resources from probate court costs, creditors, and complicated legal processes.

A trust is a legal framework that holds any assets you place inside. In this way, a trust is a bit like a different type of bank account. However, in a trust agreement, you distribute assets to beneficiaries according to certain standards or time constraints. With certain kinds of trusts, you may be a beneficiary while you are living. With others, you can make Medicaid Planning a reality to cover any future long-term care expenses

The trust agreement document lays out how your assets will be distributed to heirs after you die. Suppose you have heirs with addiction problems, special needs, or disabilities. A trust may help you distribute assets in ways that do not interfere with government benefit programs they may participate in. Talk with your estate planning attorney about whether trusts may be a good option for your current financial circumstances.

3- Health Care Directives

Part of an estate plan is thinking about your future health care needs. According to the National Institutes of Health, “At any age, a medical crisis could leave you too ill to make your own health care decisions. Even if you are not sick now, planning for health care in the future is an important step toward making sure you get the medical care you would want, if you are unable to speak for yourself and doctors and family members are making the decisions for you.”

You can designate medical decision-makers with a healthcare power of attorney and living will. These trusted individuals will help make medical decisions about you if you become unable. Making these plans eliminates quarreling between relatives about what to do in emergency situations. Well-thought-out medical plans also take the burden of making difficult decisions away from your family.

4- Financial Power of Attorney

With a durable power of attorney, you can give a trusted person authority broad authority to handle your finances and property.  Let a trusted loved one make financial decisions on your behalf if you are unconscious or unable to make decisions for yourself. These types of planning can spring into action if the unexpected happens. Power of attorneys documents are a great end-of-life planning tool, but can also be incredibly useful during your life if you have a medical emergency and need someone else to hold the reins of your family’s day-to-day financial decisions.

5- Protect Your Children’s Property

Naming an adult to manage any money and property your minor children may inherit from you is wise. This can be the same person as the personal guardian you name in your will or it can be someone else, including a corporate trustee.

6- File Beneficiary Forms

Proper beneficiary designations for bank accounts, retirement accounts, etc. can make the account automatically “payable on death” to your beneficiary and allow the funds to bypass the probate process.  Likewise, in almost all states, you can register your stocks, bonds, or brokerage accounts to transfer to your beneficiary upon your death.

7- Considering Life Insurance

Considering whether your family may need the benefit of life insurance if you pass on makes sense. Your estate planning attorney may advise you on the best plans for your specific circumstances. Life insurance may be a good idea if you:

  • Have young children
  • Own a house
  • Owe significant debts
  • Will owe estate tax when you die

8- Making Final Arrangements

There are a number of ways to handle funeral expenses, such as a separate payable on death account, or life insurance.  Prepaid funeral arrangements made in trust with the state of NC work well if you plan to stay in the state. However, if you move out of state, you must transfer the prepaid trust. Setting these types of arrangements up with an attorney may prevent a situation where a funeral home takes advantage of your desires.

Your attorney may also help you establish and plan for your wishes regarding organ and body donation and disposition of your body — burial or cremation. Making these decisions now makes the process easier for your grieving family.

9- Protect Your Business

If you’re the sole owner of a business, you should have a succession plan. You should have a buyout agreement if you own a business with others.

10- Organize Your Documents

Staying organized for future events is just part of being an adult. Estate planning organization involves considering where you keep your important documents and letting others know.  When you work with an estate planning law firm, experienced attorneys advise you on how best to keep your documents safe and available to those who may need them in the future.

The folks you put in charge if you pass away or become incapacitated will need to access your:

  • Your will
  • Any trusts
  • Insurance policies
  • Deeds for homes, boats, cars, trailers
  • Stock certificates
  • Bank accounts
  • IRA’s
  • 401(k)’s
  • Credit Cards
  • Mortgages
  • Utilities
  • Tax bills
  • Funeral arrangements
  • Past Medical History
  • Anything else important you can think of

It’s important to have important legal, financial, and healthcare documents somewhere that can be located easily by the executor of your will or power of attorney when needed.

11- Estate Planning Prepares Your Future

No one knows what the future holds. At Hopler, Wilms, and Hanna, our estate planning law firm works with families daily who wish they had prepared for their future sooner. Making the tough decisions now instead of facing impossible choices later is wise.

We know how hard it is to ponder these life and death issues, but you owe it to yourself and your family to make a plan now. Often, when individuals do not plan, their family faces disagreements over how to properly handle various situations. In some cases, this family strife even leads to lawsuits. Thinking ahead is a peace-of-mind gift to you and to your family.

We Can Help

Our estate planning attorneys have years of experience assisting clients in making comprehensive estate plans. We want to help prepare you for unexpected challenges that your family may face. Our focus at Hopler, Wilms, and Hanna is preparing for your future with wills, trusts, advance directives, power of attorney documents, and other legal documents. Contact us today and find out how we can help you and your loved ones be ready for whatever may come.

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