Gaining control over our finances is usually at or near the top of all New Year’s resolutions. What many people don’t realize, though, is that good legal planning is an essential component of our financial health. Effective legal documents can protect us from costly divorces, lawsuits and exorbitant transfer taxes. Why then, do half of us not even have a will?
Fox News recently posted some tips in an article titled “Is it time for your legal checkup?“The article advises that a will is a great starting point, even if you’re young and healthy. Once we have children, another important part of estate planning is designating a guardian who will rear your children if something unforeseen happens. It’s also important to decide the ages at which your kids should inherit assets. You should discuss all of this with your estate planning attorney: allowing the trustee to have the discretion as to how, whether, and when to make distributions can protect immature or young beneficiaries. This will also keep these assets from counting against a young person’s college financial aid applications.
The Fox News article also counsels against online or DIY estate planning kits, as no two situations are identical. You can trust an attorney with information about your loved ones’ spending issues, troubled marriages, developmental disabilities, gambling and/or substance abuse problems so that he or she can work with you to create a strategy to protect everyone. A “fill in the blanks” document could not possibly protect our goofy relatives from each other! Come on, your brother-in-law Ed is no financial planner!
A Power of Attorney allows you to name an agent who can sign documents and transact business on your behalf, if you become mentally or physically incapacitated. It’s critical to customize the document based upon your relationship with the named agent. For example, young people may want to limit the agent’s authority to just paying bills, and older married people usually want to delegate full power to each other.
While you are at it, think about your health care advance directive. This allows you to designate an agent who has your permission to speak with your medical caregivers about your treatment decisions on your behalf if you are unable to speak for yourself.
Once the basic estate plan is in place, you should revisit it periodically with your attorney. If there’s a big change in your circumstances-either good or bad-your estate planning attorney should be made aware.
Reference: Fox News (February 12, 2015) “Is it time for your legal checkup?“