Q: Why do I need an estate plan?
“…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”~ Benjamin Franklin
There’s any number of reasons why people continually put off seeing an estate planning attorney. Some are uncomfortable with the thought of dying; others can’t decide on legal guardians for their children or make other important decisions that are part of a proper estate plan. Then there are those who postpone it thinking they are too young and have plenty of time. Still others think they don’t have enough assets to bother formalizing their wishes or often mistakenly believe that what they do have will automatically wind up in the hands of those they want to have it.
The reality is that virtually everyone could benefit from proper estate planning—and could be hurt by failure to plan. The very wealthy need advanced estate planning strategies to reduce their estate taxes, gift taxes and generation-skipping transfer taxes while protecting and maximizing the transfer of assets to their loved ones. But you don’t have to be affluent to benefit from a proper estate plan.
When you die, all of your property must pass to another person. While some of it may pass automatically to another person depending on the type of property and how the property is held, other property requires a formal directive like the instructions given in a properly-prepared Last Will or Trust.
Regardless of how your property passes, an experienced estate planning attorney will examine all of your assets, your family dynamic, and your intentions for the distribution of those assets and design an estate plan to minimize potential estate taxes as well as probate and other costs and ideally to move the assets to your loved ones as quickly as possible.
A complete estate plan will not only include a Last Will and Testament and/or a Trust to handle the transfer of assets to your loved ones or others after death, it will also include other documents like a Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, and/or a Living Will.
Such documents usually don’t kick in until the event you become disabled or incapacitated. A Durable Power of Attorney allows the person you appoint to carry-on your financial affairs in the event you become incapacitated. A Health Care Proxy allows you to designate one or more people to make medical treatment decisions on your behalf if you don’t have the capacity to do so. A Living Will outlines the medical treatment you would like to have (or not have) in the event you become unconscious, terminally ill, or unable to communicate decisions regarding your own medical treatment.
If you have minor children, one of the most important reasons to see an estate planning lawyer is to insure that the person or persons you want to raise your children in the event you and your co-parent both die before they reach the age of 18. Ideally, you should choose a guardian and successor guardian in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to act as a guardian if the time to do so arises. It can be a very difficult decision for most parents, but it is still best for you to make it and formalize it. Failure to designate a guardian may result in the court placing your children with people you do not want raising them.
Providing for your incapacity and death, planning for death taxes, providing for your minor children, and avoiding or minimizing any estate taxes are just some of the important reasons to see an estate planning attorney. While it may be uncomfortable to face your immortality, the peace of mind of knowing you have put your affairs in order so your family and loved ones will be provided for and protected in the event of your death is priceless.
If you need to prepare– or update– your estate plan, the experienced estate planning attorneys at Merlino & Gonzalez can help. Call today at 718-698-2200 to request a consultation. From our office in Staten Island, we represent local clients as well as those throughout New York State.