Estate planning is the means by which you protect and provide for your family and others close to you. Estate planning helps you establish your financial goals, both before and after death.
Estate planning, or the lack of it, can greatly affect your retirement and determine the future welfare of others you care about, like your spouse and children, charitable organizations, and pets.
By establishing a good recordkeeping system and putting in a little preliminary work, you can save a lot of time and thereby reduce the expense associated with the legal preparation of your estate plan. So, where do you start?
First, take some time to think about what you want to have in your will or trust documents before you meet with your lawyer. Make notes and lsits of what you want your will to achieve.
Having some clear idea of what you want will not only help guide your lawyer in building your will to your specifications, but will save valuable time and reduce your legal fees.
Some of the things your attorney will need to know:
- your current earnings and what you own in property, investments and savings.
- your liabilities. Make a list of all loans, their amounts, and the name of the person, company or financial institution that has made this loan to you.
- if you own a business, or have a part interest in one, what is its estimated value and what do you want done with the business should you die while still owning it. If there are documents of incorporation or partnership drawn up, take copies of those to the lawyer as this will clarify what you own, what the share structure is like, and what you may do with your share of the business.
- the estimated value of your personal property including art, special collections, mineral rights, vehicles and any other items you own that have value. If you have any certificates of evaluation or bill of sales, purchase agreements, etc., bring copies of these with you.
- a complete list of all your current chequings, savings, investment and retirement accounts. This includes the account number and the name and location of the financial institutions where they are held and the amount in each account.
A Checklist To Help
Everyone's situation is different, so the information you provide to your lawyer will be pertinent to your particular situation. This checklist, however, should give you a place to start.
1.List all assets and their value if sold today. Indicate if they are in your name only or owned jointly with someone else. Indicate the location of each asset.
- Cash, savings and investments
- Physical assets such as automobiles, real estate, recreation vehicles, art, collections, etc.
- Insurance Policies - try to provide copies of the actual policies
2. List all liabilities - any amounts owing on your assets, the date of any payments and their amounts. Indicate who is owed and how to contact them.
3. List the names, ages and addresses of all family members or friends you intend to name as beneficiaries.
4. If you ahve a current will on file with an attorney or financial institution, bring a copy of the document.
5. If you are the owner or partner in a company, bing incorporation or partnership agreements and current market evaluation.
6. If you have any previous bequests or established any trusts, provide all the details, dates and beneficiary information.
7. Provide copies of important documents, including marriage, divorce, annulment, separation or adoption.
8. Provide details of any pension plans you have or are a beneficiary of.
9. Outline, if you can, how you want your property to pass in each of the following situations
- you predecease your spouse
- your spouse predeceases you
- one orm ore of your children or legal dependents predecease you
- you predecease a parent or other older relative who is or may not remain financially independent
10. Consider how you would respond to the following questions:
- In the event you and your spouse die at the same time (in a common accident, for example), at what ages woudl you want property to be available to your children, grandchildren, other dependents or beneficiaries, without restriction?
- At this time, should the need arise, and if you have underage children, whom would you wish to be designated as guardians of your children or dependents? If your chosen guardian(s) become unable to care for your children, whom would you want to succeed them?
11. List all charitable organizations (includnig educational institutions) you expect to mention in your estate plan and the type or amount of property you intend them to receive. (Note whether or not you already have indicated your intentions to the planned recipient.)
12. Specifically list items of personal property you want particular individuals to have upon your death if you predecease your sopuse, and what other dispositions you would make if your spouse predeceases you. This includes items of value as well as items that have only sentimental value. It can be a mistake to assume that those who survive you will just work it out. It is often helpful if you can discuss your wishes with families and friends beforehand.
13. Think about who you want to appoint as executor of your estate. This is an important decision, since the executor is responsible for distributing your assest in the way you specify. This can be a family member, friend or a specified professional. YOu may want to appoint co-executors, or executors who would be "next in line" shoudl the executor of choice not be able, for some reason, to fulfill their obligations (e.g. they have become incapacitated, are not in the country, become deceased etc). Your lawyer can help you determine your options and help you weigh the pros and cons of each.
14.You may want to consider putting some estate requests in a letter of understanding to the executor rather than the will itself. Letters of understanding can be changed without revising the whole will. Remember, though, that a letter of understanding is not a legal document like a will, so the executor is not bound in the same way by law to follow your instructions. This is something that you shoudl definitely get a lawyer's advice on.
15. Your will should be reviewed periodically. There are a host of life situations and events that coudl provoke a change in your estate plans, liek a divorce, birth of a child or grandchild, a change in one's preferences of beneficiaries, etc. If something in your life causes you to want to change how your estate is administered, contact your lawyer as soon as possible.
The above article is for general information - it does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a lawyer.
MAY 2011 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND