Everyone can benefit from planning for the future, whether it involves the distribution of property, income or estate tax reduction, or the care of family members. A comprehensive estate plan that will protect you and your loved ones involves more than just a simple will and is often best accomplished by using a team of advisors. In addition to your estate planning attorney, the services of a certified public accountant, investment advisor, insurance professional and a bank trust officer may be advisable. In developing your estate plan, you should consider the following:
Will – enables you to control to whom and in what manner your property will be distributed at your death.
Durable Power of Attorney – this is a document in which you grant another person the power to carry out certain actions on your behalf, even after you become incapacitated. This generally avoids the time, trouble, and expense of a court incompetency and guardianship proceeding. A power of attorney is valid only while you are living.
Health Care Power of Attorney (North Carolina) or Designation of Health Care Surrogate (Florida) – this document is similar to a durable power of attorney, but it is limited to health care matters. It takes effect if and when you become incapacitated and unable to express your own decisions.
Living Will -also known as an Advance Declaration for a Natural Death (in North Carolina), this document states your wishes regarding the use of life-sustaining procedures if you are terminally ill or in a permanent coma.
Living Trust – allows for the management of your assets during your life, and provides that the trust assets will be distributed directly to your chosen beneficiaries at your death, avoiding the time, expense, and publicity of probate.
Life insurance – adequate coverage is important for income replacement, particularly for parents of minor children. For those with larger estates (over $13 million), life insurance is a relatively low-cost way to help pay estate taxes. However, you should be aware that life insurance proceeds are subject to estate tax unless ownership of the policy is properly structured.
Disability insurance – coverage is crucial to replace lost income if you are unable to work.
Long-term Care insurance – helps protect against the ever-rising costs of nursing home and home health care.
Umbrella liability insurance – provides protection over and above the limits of your homeowners and automobile insurance at a very low cost.
Asset Titles and Beneficiary Designations
Proper titling of assets and beneficiary designations (for life insurance and retirement accounts) is important for several reasons, including asset protection, tax savings, and probate avoidance.
A professionally managed, properly diversified portfolio will help ensure a comfortable retirement for you and a legacy for your heirs. 529 College Savings Plans, in addition to serving as an excellent way to save for the costs of higher education for children and grandchildren, offer important tax advantages.
Protecting assets from creditors, divorce, and mismanagement is a key component of a comprehensive estate plan. Proper titling of assets, beneficiary designations, and the use of limited liability companies and certain trusts are considerations in asset protection.
Regular Review and Updates
When should you review your estate plan? The following is a list of some of the events that should trigger a review:
- Marriage, divorce, or death of spouse
- Birth of a child
- Children become financially independent
- Birth of a grandchild
- New business venture
- Substantial growth in your business
- Job promotion
- Purchase of life insurance
- Move to a different state
- Substantial increase or decrease in wealth
- Decision to make large charitable gifts
- Increase in risk of being subject to a lawsuit
- Substantial amounts of property are in joint names
- You purchase real property (including a timeshare) in another state or country.
Even in the absence of any of these events, an estate plan should be reviewed every three to five years to ensure that the documents are in keeping with current laws and planning techniques.