Estate planning is sometimes a difficult subject to discuss, but it’s vitally important to put your wishes in writing should anything happen to you. Creating a plan can ensure that your loved ones are cared for, your wishes are carried out faithfully, and your family members don’t become embroiled in painful and contentious disputes after you pass.
Many put off consulting with an experienced attorney and creating a comprehensive estate plan because of the sheer amount of paperwork involved, especially for those managing complex estates including a business, multiple heirs, or a complex portfolio of assets.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, we’re here to help you navigate through this process and find peace of mind. Let’s take a deeper look at what you can expect and the documentation that should be included in your estate planning process.
Take the First Step
The best place to start is to sit down with a knowledgeable advisor and consider several basic questions. The answers will form the framework for your plan, help you identify your goals, and ensure you’ve covered every eventuality.
What is the extent of my assets?
Understanding what you can pass along to your heirs begins with understanding what you have. Your financial advisor or accountant may also be able to assist with taking a thorough inventory of your estate and its supporting documentation, including:
- Life insurance policies
- Retirement funds, pensions, or 401(k)s
- Real estate, homes, and land holdings
- Jewelry, art, or other valuable collections
- Stocks, bonds, and securities
- Bank accounts and cryptocurrency
- Other investments or business ownership interests
- Any other personal property you want to bequeath
Once you have a detailed understanding of your assets and liabilities, you can begin to make decisions regarding distributions, crafting your will, deciding whether you should create a trust, and designating guardians and beneficiaries.
How should I divide my assets between my spouse, children, and other beneficiaries?
An attorney who specializes in these sensitive matters is the perfect resource to help you determine the right division of assets. They’ll guide you through all of your options for the disbursement of your property and structure your estate plan to shield your beneficiaries from court battles and heavy tax burdens.
Who will be the executor of my estate, receive power of attorney, or act as a trustee?
Your estate’s executor should be a highly trusted individual or entity. The executor of the estate owes a fiduciary duty to you and your loved ones. Whether you choose a relative, a family friend, or decide to hire a trust company, they should be above reproach and completely committed to carrying out your wishes in every aspect.
For decisions that need to be made if you become incapacitated, a power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that appoints a person or organization to handle your affairs or make decisions if you become unable to do so. In the state of Illinois, there are two types of durable power of attorney — a power of attorney for property that handles your finances, and a power of attorney for health care, which is responsible for ensuring your medical directives are carried out.
Including a power of attorney in your estate plan can ensure that there are no gaps in your plan and that your wishes are carried out no matter what might happen.
A living will or advance directive can also ensure that your wishes related to your medical care, including end-of-life care, are carried out faithfully.
Make Your Plan
Your will is the cornerstone of your overall estate plan. It provides clarity of your wishes so that your heirs can avoid disputes and conflict. A will can also specify who will be the guardian of your minor children and how their funds should be managed in the event of your passing.
Filing a will through your legal representative helps the probate process go smoothly for your heirs and beneficiaries. If you decide to design a living trust to manage your assets, a pour-over will can help to manage the distribution and use of any assets that may have been left out of the trust.
Document Your Legacy
Once you have discussed these considerations with your loved ones and advisors, your estate planning attorney will prepare the needed forms and legal documents to create your comprehensive estate plan:
- A letter of instruction or intent that covers your funeral arrangements
- Your living will or advanced healthcare directive
- A last will and testament
- Durable power of attorney for healthcare and property
- Guardian designations for yourself and your minor children
- Beneficiary designations for your IRA, life insurance, 401(k), or pension
- A revocable living trust, if advised by your attorney
- Titles and property deeds
- Bank, investment, or other financial accounts
- Proof of identity documents such as your Social Security card, birth and marriage certificates, or pre-nuptial agreements
You may also want to consider designating someone in your will to act as your digital executor. This is a person who will manage your online accounts and passwords, photos and videos, cloud data files, social media accounts, cryptocurrency or NFTs, and any other digital assets. This person can also be designated to notify your online friends and followers of your passing.
Questions? We’re Here to Help
Assembling the various documents needed to complete your estate plan might seem like a daunting task, but it’s crucial to protecting your loved ones from the hassle and expense of going through probate court. An estate plan also ensures your assets are distributed according to your wishes and there are instructions in place in case you become unable to make important decisions.
Our skilled and compassionate team has over a decade of experience in estate planning and family law. We’re here to help you understand your options and prepare the documentation you need for the estate planning process.
Founded in 2009, the Law Offices of J. Jeltes specializes in assisting individuals and families through every aspect of major life decisions. If you’re ready to begin the conversation, reach out today to schedule a consultation.