It is good to do your estate plan and even better to do it wisely. After years in this ever-evolving and complex business, I can attest that not all estate plans are created equally. Some serve their purpose well, bringing organization and peace where there was once uncertainty. Others, however, cause headache (for the client), heartache (for the beneficiaries), and what I call pocket-ache (for everybody except the lawyer!). Estate planning should not be painful. Done wisely, it is a useful, organized, even therapeutic process toward getting one's affairs in order. To make your process more pleasant and effective, consider these four critical keys to wise estate planning.
1) Choose the right person. A key factor in choosing the right person is choosing an attorney. Did you know that there are individuals who are not attorneys who draft living trusts? These trusts are almost always problematic. When choosing an attorney, work with an attorney whose practice is solely focused on estate planning, not a general practice attorney or one whose primary focus is another field of law. Estate planning laws and best practices change regularly and subtly. It is easier for a lawyer who does not devote all of his or her time to estate planning to miss these changes. Why not have an estate planning attorney work with you, especially if the cost is the same or even less than someone not as well qualified?
2) If you are a couple with no more than one or two pieces of real property, it is entirely possible for you to have a complete estate plan prepared by an estate planning attorney for $1500 or less. Yes, many lawyers have the luxury of naming their own price, but you don't have to pay $2500 to $4000 to have an estate planning attorney draft the average trust. It pays to shop around.
3) As I get older, I appreciate more and more the fact that "timing is everything"! It is vital to do your estate plan while you still think you have lots of time. You'll devote the time necessary to think decisions through and work at your own pace. Besides, if the time does come that you feel your days are limited, I am sure you would rather spend them on more enjoyable things than estate planning. Your mind, your emotions, and your health all have an effect on the process; make it easier on yourself by creating your plan sooner and just making adjustments (if needed) later.
4) Keep your plan up to date. As the years roll by, things change and we need to update, change, amend or restate our estate plans accordingly. I once told a client, "If only your father would have made these two simple changes to his plan, we would not have to deal with this problem." When there is a birth, death, or simply a change of heart, take time to reflect those changes in your estate plan. Wisdom is not putting off until tomorrow what you can do today.
© 2014 by Marlene S. Cooper. All rights reserved.