Eight Reasons You Need An Estate Plan

You devoted your lifetime of hard work to protecting your family and all others you hold dear. A strong estate plan can safeguard the fruits of your labor for them when you are no longer here to do so.

Below are the eight most important reasons to have an estate plan. By taking the time and effort necessary to plan your estate, you will be able to:

1. Specify family members and friends as your beneficiaries (and prevent your assets from ending up with strangers, antagonists or the undeserving). Without an estate plan, state law decides who gets your assets. Conflict between worthy and unworthy beneficiaries can prolong the process. Only you (not a court or your state legislature) knows who is deserving and who is not; and who needs special help and who does not. You can also achieve your philanthropic goals by naming religious, educational and other charitable organizations as a beneficiary.

2. Appoint a guardian for your minor children. If you are the parent of small children, you need to prepare for the unthinkable possibility of leaving them prematurely. In your Will you can specify who will raise your children if you pass away while they are young. Without a Will that names a guardian, the courts will step in to determine who will care for your children.

3. Choose executors and trustees for your estate. Your estate plan is only as good as the people you name to carry out the instructions you leave in your Will or revocable living trust. If you fail to make a selection, a court will do so for you. Choosing competent executors and trustees, and giving them the necessary authority to act, will save money, reduce the burden on your survivors and simplify administration of your estate.

4. Plan for incapacity. As life expectancy rises, so does the risk of disability. Estate planning usually includes planning for the possibility of your own mental or physical incapacity. Living wills and durable health care powers of attorney enable you to decide in advance about life support and to select someone to make decisions for you about medical treatment. Also, financial powers of attorney and revocable living trusts enable you to provide for the proper management of your assets in the event of your incapacity. Without taking such measures, decision-making about your welfare will be made by a court-appointed representative (a conservator or guardian) according to state law without personalized guidance from you.

5. Reduce risk of conflict (and ease the strain on your family). Every decision you make, and express clearly, will reduce the risk of conflict among your survivors. As part of the estate planning process, you will make important decisions about your own health care and who will make health care decisions for you; how to plan and deal with your own incapacity and who will make related decisions for you; what kind of funeral arrangements you want; who inherits your property; who carries out the instructions in your Will or revocable living trust; and who will be the guardian of your children. By eliminating guesswork, you reduce the potential for conflict.

6. Reduce delay and cost. Good estate planning will minimize the delays and costs of transferring property to beneficiaries. When survivors disagree, each party incurs legal fees, carrying costs mount up, beneficiaries are denied access to assets and fiduciary fees grow (see (5) above). Even if no conflict arises, however, the following simple planning steps will minimize delays and costs: (a) prepare a properly drafted Will or revocable living trust; (b) nominate qualified people or financial institutions as Executors and Trustees; (c) provide quick access to cash (via a revocable living trust or other means) to cover early expenses and necessary support for survivors; (d) provide a way to raise cash to satisfy debts, expenses, taxes and legacies; and (e) take steps to reduce estate and income tax obligations that arise from death.

7. Provide for special circumstances (including arrangements for any beneficiary who requires extraordinary help and guidance). Let's say you have an elderly parent or disabled child, or a grandchild whose education you want to assure. As part of your estate plan, you can establish a special trust fund for family members who need support that you won't be there to provide. The most common special circumstances that may affect estate planning decisions are:

  • blended families (how do you reconcile the desire to provide for a spouse with the desire to provide for children of a prior marriage?)
  • a beneficiary's unhappy marriage (will the beneficiary's divorce expose the beneficiary's inheritance to claims of the divorcing spouse?)
  • a beneficiary's creditors (will the beneficiary's creditors become the ultimate beneficiary of the inheritance?)
  • a beneficiary who is receiving public assistance (will the inheritance disqualify the beneficiary for the assistance and will the government take your bequest for reimbursement?)
  • a beneficiary who suffers from a mental or physical disability
  • a beneficiary's immaturity (is the beneficiary too young or immature to manage the inheritance?)
  • a spendthrift beneficiary (will the beneficiary waste the inheritance by spending it extravagantly or irresponsibly?)

As part of the estate planning process, you can provide for the beneficiary while shielding the assets from the risks associated with such special circumstances.

8. Provide for special assets. The management and disposition of certain assets will require special knowledge, skills and attention. For example, business assets require knowledge of the business's employees, customers, products, regulatory environment and markets. As part of the estate planning process, you can provide for an orderly succession and continuation of the business's affairs by spelling out what will happen to your interest in the business. Your valuable collections of art, coins, precious metals, jewelry, photographs, antiques, firearms, and all the other fascinating trinkets and gadgets that people collect, require special knowledge and attention if their monetary or subjective value is to be preserved and realized. Authors, artists, inventors and designers may have intellectual property (patents, copyrights and trademarks) that requires special attention. You may have a vacation home that you would like future generations to enjoy after your death. As part of the estate planning process, you can provide special instructions for the management and disposition of such assets, appoint the proper person (your Executor or Trustee) who will be responsible for managing, liquidating or distributing such assets, and provide guidance regarding consultants, appraisers and brokers who may be helpful to your Executor or Trustee.

Learn More About Estate Planning

There may be more reasons why you need an estate plan but the ones mentioned above are the most common. In your first consultation, our attorneys can explain more about how a well-crafted estate plan can benefit you, your family and others who are dear to you. To schedule a time to meet with one of our estate planning lawyers, please call us at 203-501-1712 or arrange an appointment via email.