When you hear about estate planning, you may assume it’s something only the wealthy or those who have a lot of property or business assets need to worry about. However, that’s far from the truth. Estate planning is essential for all people – no matter your financial status.
Creating a comprehensive estate plan is one of the single most important things you can do for yourself and your family. A full estate plan includes a will, power of attorney, advance healthcare directive and possibly a trust (depending on your assets). By planning for your assets after death, it takes the stress away from your family at the time of your passing so they can focus on their grief and not worry about probate court of legal issues. Plus, by getting your estate plan out of the way early, you can have peace of mind knowing your wishes are stated in legally binding writings and you can focus on living your life to the fullest!
Estate planning is not fun to think about but absolutely necessary because life and death can be unpredictable. So, here’s what you need to know before starting the estate-planning process.
1. It can help protect you! An often-overlooked part of a comprehensive estate plan is the advance healthcare directive and power of attorney. If you become incapacitated and are unable to make your own decisions regarding medical care or procedures, your estate plan will dictate how to proceed or who can make decisions on your behalf. If this is not directly stated, the hospital/medical staff would allow a spouse or closest kin to make the calls. To ensure your wishes are protected, assign a power of attorney and fill out a healthcare directive, which includes a Do Not Resuscitate order, artificial nutrition and other life-saving medical procedures, as soon as possible. Additionally, you must have a conversation with your power of attorney designee so they are aware of your wishes in the event you become incapacitated. This conversation should include life-saving medical procedures, after-death plans, organ/tissue donation, etc.
2. It lets you decide how your assets will be distributed. By having a written will or living trust, you can ensure your wealth, property and assets are dispersed as you wish. You can divide your assets in any way you deem best. However, if you die in Ohio without a will, Ohio intestacy laws will decide how to distribute your property and they favor your closest family members. If you are married, your spouse will be the largest beneficiary. If you have a spouse and children, they will share assets, which could lead to familial issues if relationships are strained.
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3. It will protect your family members, beneficiaries and/or assets. By working with a lawyer to plan your estate, you can protect minor children by establishing their preferred caregiver. It also allows you to set up a trust fund or conservator if your chosen beneficiary is not able to properly handle the assets bequeathed to them. A trusted lawyer will be able to help you establish the best plan for your beloved family members while also doing their best to protect your assets and your wishes. For instance, if you want to ensure an heirloom stays in the family rather than being sold, this could be stated in your estate plan with a trustee named as the protector.
4. It reduces taxes. You can help your beneficiaries avoid a big hit from the IRS through a properly prepared estate plan. Laws limit the amount of money you can gift without the recipient being heavily taxed. With a solid estate plan, you can minimize or eliminate estate, gift or inheritance taxes for recipients. This is often done through establishing trusts.
5. It helps avoid legal/family issues. After your death, the last thing you want your family to face is lengthy or contentious court battles. By drafting your will with a qualified estate law attorney, you can avoid probate, or the process of legitimizing your will and valuing on their assets, paying final bills and taxes, and distributing remaining assets to the established beneficiaries.
Start Your Estate Plan
Take control of your assets by starting your estate plan today. While the conversation and process of estate planning are not fun or enjoyable to broach, it is a necessary one – especially in this day and age as we continue to face an unpredictable global pandemic and changing world.
Amy Turos brings extensive experience in family law, estate planning and motor vehicle accidents throughout Portage, Trumbull, Geauga and Summit counties.
photo: Amy R. Turos, attorney at law Credit: Amy R. Turos