Estate Planning: Your Guide to Get Started, Conversations to Have, and More

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It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day. After all, we spend our entire lives caring for the people we love. And, when it comes to family planning, we want to make sure they have everything they need.

According to the AARP, today more than half of the adults in the country have no Will or any other estate planning device. This is an unnerving statistic when you consider the broad range of options family estate planning provides. In some states, if you die without heirs, or a Last Will and Testament, your estate could be forfeit. When you’re gone, who will represent you to ensure your wishes are carried out? If you have children, who will make sure they receive the help and opportunities you want for them? 

Without family and estate planning, you leave a lot in the hands of the courts of your state. One thing is for sure, without a plan, you will have no say. In this guide, we’ll outline how to get started with your estate plan, conversations to have with your loved ones, and more. 

Where to Start Estate Planning

So, just where should you start? As it is concerned with every single aspect of a person’s wealth, estate planning covers everything from life insurance to Living Wills, Trusts, 401Ks, and the list goes on. There are a few very important bases to cover so let’s look at the big ones: 

  1. Make sure you have a Will. Even an outdated Will is better than no Will at all. Many people put off creating a Will because they think it may be too expensive, but estate planning isn’t just for the rich, it’s necessary protection for everyone that owns anything. Tools like Gentreo provide instant access to forms, collaborative platforms, and secure storage.
  2. Appoint a Power of Attorney. Should unforeseen circumstances render you unable to dictate control over your finances, a Power of Attorney establishes the ability for a pre-appointed person to act on your behalf. It’s important to note that a Power of Attorney does not continue after you die. If that should happen, the personal representative (also known as an executor) you named in your Will would take over and disperse your estate according to your direction (your Power of Attorney and the executor of your estate may be the same person). 
  3. Choose your personal representative (executor). Speaking of which, it may be useful to start thinking of someone you may want to carry out, or execute your estate plan. Choosing the right personal representative isn’t that hard. Who do you trust? Look for someone that has proven responsibility, financially as well as otherwise. Remember this individual has a lot of responsibilities, but the biggest one is carrying out your wishes. 

The big takeaway here is, it’s not too late, and it’s never too early to start planning for your estate. In fact, when it can be done as simply as having a couple of direct conversations, making some decisions and filling out a few forms, there’s no reason not to get started.

What Is An Estate Plan?

Most people think owning an estate refers to a mansion or a vast amount of wealth. If you own a home – regardless of size – a car, property, bank accounts, and investments, you have an estate. In order to protect it, you should have an Estate Plan. 

Parts of an Estate Plan 

A Will, Trust, Health Care Proxy, and Power of Attorney are part of an estate plan. These legal documents spell out your wishes and what to do with your assets when you pass or have someone make decisions for you if you cannot. Here’s how each document works:

  1. Will – Also known as a Last Will and Testament, lists beneficiaries that you want to receive your assets and property when you pass and ensures your wishes are carried out. It also names the executor – the person you choose to carry out the Will and pay off final debts.
  2. Trust – Names a person you choose, known as the trustee, to hold your assets on behalf of beneficiaries. This usually helps avoid probate, saving time and money.
  3. Health Care Proxy – You choose a person to make health care decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. Also, a Gentreo Health Care Proxy allows you to make decisions about what life sustaining treatment you may want, similar to what is addressed in a Living Will.
  4. Power of Attorney – Gives authority to a person of your choosing to manage your financial affairs and make decisions for you. 

Your Estate Plan should start with a Will and or a Living Trust (also known as a Revocable Living Trust). The Will provides instructions of to whom your assets will be distributed upon your death. All assets that you own individually at the time of your death are probate assets and are covered by your Will. Other assets that have beneficiaries, like life insurance and 401Ks or jointly held assets, pass outside of probate.

A Revocable Living Trust allows you to appoint a trustee that will hold your assets for beneficiaries you name. Unlike a Will, the assets stay in the Trust and often avoid the probate process. And, a Trust can live on after you. It can provide assets to beneficiaries when they reach a certain age of your designation.

In many cases, it’s best to have both a Will and a Trust. A Will controls the distribution of all your assets and allows you to appoint a guardian for your minor children where the Trust typically involves just certain assets. If you have a Trust, you should also have a Pour-over Will that acts as a catch-all for any assets you forgot to transfer to your Trust prior to your death.

If you die without a Will, it is known as intestate. In this case, the state – not your family – will control the distribution of your assets. Your spouse and children would receive a share of the assets in accordance with the particular state’s laws. If both parents die, the probate court would control the inheritance of your minor children and appoint a guardian for their care.

You want to control who receives your assets. Estate planning is all about ensuring that your wishes are carried out: who gets what, what items you want them to have, and when they should receive it. A proper estate plan will make sure your loved ones receive what you want them to have with minimal taxes, costs, and legal fees.

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What to Include in an Estate Plan

Some details to think about including in an Estate Plan are:

  • The transfer of your business upon your retirement, death, or disability
  • Protecting loved ones who are financially irresponsible
  • A financial plan if you become disabled
  • A long-term care plans
  • A guardian for your minor children
  • A list of your digital assets and passwords
  • Who will take care of your pets

If you have life insurance, investments, bank and retirement accounts, you should name a beneficiary – the person who will inherit the funds from these financial instruments. Beneficiary Designation documents – the forms that name the beneficiaries – should be kept in your Gentreo Digital Family Vault. 

Once you create your estate plan, it shouldn’t be locked away and forgotten. As your life and financial situations change, your plan should be updated accordingly. Would your family know where to find your insurance documents and property files if something happened to you? Your Estate Planning documents and other important records should be stored in a safe place where your loved ones can have easy access. It is because of this that Gentreo offers a secure and accessible Digital Family Vault.

Everyone – regardless of age – should have an estate plan in place. It’s not just for retired people or the wealthy. No matter how much or how little you have, an estate plan gives you the power to decide what happens with your assets.

The time to create an estate plan is now. Your family will be thankful that you had all your affairs in order and that you didn’t leave them with a legal and financial mess to deal with. Remember, the plan can be changed as your life changes. An estate plan will give you and your family peace of mind.

Get started today! We can create a custom, simple, and affordable health and family estate plan. We also offer our Gentreo Digital Family Vault where you can safely store and share your documents.

All of The Things to Consider In Your Estate Plan

As seniors live longer and healthcare and long-term costs escalate, estate planning is essential to protect your assets. By taking those first steps now and having thoughtful discussions around tough issues, you can rest assured that your wishes and decisions are considered if you are unable to make them. 

Once you know what your financial and legal situation is, you need a roadmap of what to do. From protecting assets to preparing for the tough decisions of aging, each family’s estate plan is unique. Be sure to consult an expert to make sure you’re getting the help that you need and your plan best fits your situation.

Step One: Apply for Medicaid

Medicare isn’t enough. It helps seniors pay for healthcare costs, but it doesn’t cover long-term care costs such as home care, private duty care, nursing home care or assisted living. That’s where Medicaid – the joint federal and state program – comes in. Some states require those applying for Medicaid to spend down their assets to as little as $2,000 total, not including countable assets such as your car or home.

Medicaid wants to make sure that people aren’t hiding assets, so they look back at every transaction applicants have made over the past five years. Any gift or asset transfer not covered under specific legal and financial rules will be subject to a penalty period. For example, parents can gift only $500 total per month to their children that is not subject to reimbursement. This means if you are planning on paying for others’ vacations, buying your children expensive presents or gifting them money that when you apply for Medicaid, your children will be expected to reimburse you or you will be subject to a penalty.

The best time to prepare for Medicaid is now – before you need it. Thanks to careful planning in the form of such things as trusts, you could potentially protect you and your family’s assets. Applying for Medicaid is a complicated process which varies by state. You must undergo a vigorous process of examining all of your assets which most will be expected to be used to pay for you and your spouse’s care.

Step Two: Create the Foundational Document of Your Estate Plan

The foundational document needed in every estate plan is a Will, which designates how your assets will be distributed and by whom upon your death. Even if you decide to have a Trust, you will need a Pour-over Will to ensure all of your assets are handled according to your wishes when you pass away.

You can protect many of your assets by moving them into a Trust, such as a Revocable Living Trust. The Trust becomes the legal entity holding the asset, so those assets are not considered part of what could go to pay for care. However, major asset moves like creating a Trust should be done five years before applying for Medicaid, if possible. If not, those assets will most likely be subject to penalties based on how long the assets were in the Trust. For example, if you created an income protection Trust four years ago, some of those assets will be subject to a penalty depending on the state you live in.

Additionally, not all Trusts are created equal. Living Trusts, or Trusts that pay out income, are still seen as a countable asset to Medicaid. Be sure to check the rules in your state to see what assets are counted and how best to protect what you’ve worked so hard to earn.

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Step Three: Assess Your Situation

In order to create an effective and relevant estate plan, you need to understand your financials and your family situation. Do you have children or dependents? What is your marital status? Have your beneficiaries changed? How is your family’s health?

Make sure everything is up-to-date. Are all your financial, medical and legal forms current and executable? Are titles and forms in the correct names?

Assets

Knowing your financial situation is important as any changes can affect benefits or assistance you may be entitled. Keep track of:

  • Assets – including whose names each asset is in (you, your spouse, a trust, jointly owned, etc.)
  • Monthly income
  • Stocks/Bonds/CDs
  • Pensions
  • Retirement plan
  • Social security benefits
  • Monthly expenses such as
  • Bills
  • Mortgage
  • Healthcare costs
  • Food, entertainment, clothes, etc.

To get the most out of the assets that you have, consult an expert in estate planning. Attorneys typically cost between $5,000 and $15,000 depending on the work required.

Eligible Benefits

As you assess your situation, you should also look into what benefits you may qualify for based on your situation. Some examples of benefits to look for include: 

  1. Veterans – If you or your spouse was a member of the armed forces, you could be eligible for VA benefits, which include long term care, medical supplies, prescriptions or medical expenses.
  2. Insurance plans – If you have long-term care insurance, find out what it covers since not all plans pay for things like private home care or living facilities. Each plan differs, so be sure you consult your provider to learn what is covered, what isn’t, and how to collect your benefits.

Living Arrangements

Consider not only your current needs, but anticipate your changing needs as you age.

  1. Current Home – Does your current home need to be adapted so you can age in place?
  2. Moving – What type of home and community will meet your changing needs? Can the facility or community care for both you and your spouse at the same time if you need different levels of care?
  3. Care Facilities – Will you need a nursing home, assisted living or continuing care facilities? Which facilities meet your needs? Are their waiting lists? What are the costs and how are they paid for?

Step Four: Plan for The Future

After you know your situation and have assessed future needs, it’s time to make sure you and your loved ones are prepared in the event that something happens to you or you pass away. This step involves emergency and funeral planning, as well as scheduling regular reviews to ensure your estate plan is always up to date. 

Emergency Planning

When emergencies occur, make sure everyone is prepared. Know who you want to share information with and what information each person will have access to. This includes your spouse, children, attorney, and accountant. What does each person have access to? For example, are your children authorized to make financial decisions? Who can close accounts or pay bills?

  1. Collect Information – Compile a list of important contact information, emergency documents like your Health Care Proxy or Power of Attorney, and other things you might need in an emergency.
  2. Organize – Securely store information online and in a safe place at your home. Be sure information is easy to access, but safe from theft. A secure online storage solution like Gentreo’s Digital Family Vault is a great option. 
  3. Create a binder – For receipts and copies of financial statements (including stocks, bonds, bank statements, credit cards, monthly bills, etc.)

Funeral Planning

If you should pass away unexpectedly, is your family prepared to memorialize you as you would want? You can make funeral planning arrangements now, some of which are exempt from Medicaid assets. 

  1. Funeral Home – Most funeral homes allow you to pre-pay for services and select how your choices are implemented when you pass away.
  2. Burial – You can purchase your plot and gravestone in advance.
  3. Memorial – How do you want to be honored? Will you have a service? Who will write your obituary? Are there specific people you would like to speak or selected music you would like to be played?
  4. Family Meeting – Call a family meeting to make sure everyone is on the same page so they know what their responsibilities are, how to complete them, and what your wishes are. 
  5. Living Will – Do you have one in place and are your directives outlined?

Anticipated Changes

Each year, you should review your estate plan and documents to ensure they’re up to date and address any anticipated changes (Gentreo recommends doing so around the time that you prepare your taxes). A change in laws or your situation can affect your estate plans.

  • Laws change – How are you monitoring changes both on a state and federal level?
  • Are you moving? If so, state laws differ so all your documents will need to be reviewed.
  • Have your assets changed?
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Step Five: Execute Your Plan

Now that you have your estate plan in place, it’s time to execute it. Be sure to keep on top of things as they change and make sure that as laws change you continue to up-date your financial, legal, and medical documents as needed.

  1. Legal Documents – Talk with your lawyer to make sure that your legal documents, like Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, etc., are executed (signed) and up-to-date.
  2. Health Care Documents – Are your documents filed with your doctors and hospitals? Be sure and have a copy of your documents available to family members in case you cannot provide them in the event of an emergency.
  3. Financial Documents – Now that you know how you are paying for things and who is responsible for what, are those people able to access your accounts? For example, if your children will be responsible for paying your bills, are they on your accounts and if not, how can they access that information and when do you want to add them to your accounts?
  4. Controls – Make sure that you have controls set in place so that the people you have managing your assets are monitored in the event that you cannot do it yourself.
  5. Compile Information – Keep a book with important information and contacts such as passwords, account names, and contact information for your attorney, accountant, and personal banker. You should also include medical information such as contact information for your doctors and medical staff, your prescriptions (including prescribers, pharmacy information, and dosages), and your daily routine.

Taking these first steps in estate planning and making sure you are covered legally, financially, and medically, will help relieve burdens off your family members during a difficult time. 

With Gentreo, you can prepare a simple and affordable health and estate plan.

Don’t Put Off Creating Your Estate Plan

Procrastination is never good. However, it has the potential to be devastating when it comes to estate planning. If you put off creating your estate plan and do not complete important documents such as a Will, the state steps in and decides what happens with your assets when you pass away. What’s more, if you are in an accident and are unable to make decisions or communicate them, your loved ones will have to get approval from the courts to ensure your wishes are followed with your care.

No matter your age or your level of wealth, you should be preparing at least the basic estate planning documents like a Will, Power of Attorney, and Health Care Proxy.

Many people are so busy with their daily lives that thinking about a Will and other estate planning documents can be the farthest thing from one’s mind. Besides, if you are in your twenties, thirties or even forties, don’t you have plenty of time to get your estate in order? Well, unless you are a huge risk taker and don’t mind the possibility of the state taking all of your assets away from your family and friends, the answer is no.

The future is unpredictable. If you die without a Will or some estate plan, you will be considered to have died “intestate.” This is a legal term for dying without a Will or estate plan. Without a Will, the state has particular asset distribution models that it applies to your assets. The state guidelines do not consider any of your wishes as far as who gets your property or belongings. Instead, the state distributes the assets per its schedule even if you would not have wanted a particular person to benefit from your death. 

What if you were in the middle of a lengthy divorce and were planning on getting remarried? If you die without a Will, the state may give all of your assets to your soon-to-be ex-wife. This is probably not something you would have wanted, but there is nothing that anyone in your family can do to prevent it.  

Recently, there was a situation involving a 25-year-old man who had been thrown out of his house by his stepbrother when he was only 17-years-old. He had no other family. The man struggled for years after being thrown out of the house by the stepbrother and was homeless and forced to live in his car and on the streets.  

Despite these circumstances, he managed to put himself through college, land a good job, and find the love of his life. He had told his fiancé numerous times how he could never forgive his stepbrother and would never want anything to do with him again. Unfortunately, the man was involved in a motor vehicle accident and died. Because he didn’t have a Will, his fiance got nothing, and his next of kin – the stepbrother – got it all.

You never know what tomorrow will bring. Don’t run the risk of having your assets and belongings seized by the state or handed out to individuals to whom you would not have chosen. Don’t put off creating your estate plan. 

Let Gentreo help you create a custom, simple, and affordable health and estate family plan. 

 

Gentreo is not a law firm or a substitute for a law firm, or attorney, or an attorney’s advice or recommendation.

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