Safekeeping of Important Documents

A common question I hear from my clients is: “where should I keep my estate planning documents?” Often, the first thought people a have is to put important documents in safe deposit box. Makes sense, right? Wrong! Unless there is a co-owner on the safe deposit box, no one will be able to gain access to the box or its contents without your permission or court order, and the documents that may provide that permission are in the box! As such, I always advise my clients to not keep their documents in a safe deposit box.

So what other options do you have for safekeeping these documents?

As having the original documents is of utmost importance, it is imperative that the documents are kept in a safe place, but are also accessible. Often, my clients choose to keep the originals at my office with copies at home in a filing cabinet or desk drawer with the location of the original documents noted.

Many times clients will also consider keeping their estate planning documents in a safe, but that presents many of the same problems of keeping the documents in a safe deposit box.

Regardless of whether you choose to keep your estate planning documents at your lawyer’s office or at home, it is imperative that your family knows the location of the documents and how to access them quickly and without delay when they are needed.

 

#estateplanning #will #lawyer

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What can a living trust do for you?

Living trusts are one of the most utilized estate planning tools; however, they are one of the most commonly misunderstood documents.  

 

So, what can a living trust do?

 

The biggest objective that a living trust can accomplish is avoiding probate.  A living revocable trust can funded with most, or all, of your assets during your lifetime.  The assets are owned by the trust, but you still have control over and use of the assets during your lifetime.  At your death, the trust becomes irrevocable and the assets are distributed to the successor beneficiaries outside of probate.  

 

Avoiding probate not only saves substantial time and money, but it also gives you additional privacy.  Once a will enters probate, it becomes a public document and anyone can access it.  This is not so for living trusts.  

 

Just because living wills are such good estate planning documents does not mean that they are a “one-size-fits-all” tool.  If you have a modest estate and aren’t concerned with creditors or possible will contests, a living trust may be overkill.  Often times a well-drafted will is sufficient to accomplish your goals.  

 

A word of caution: living trusts do not replace the necessity of having a will.  A living trust is just one element of a well-drafted estate plan.  In addition to your living trust, you should have a pour-over will (so anything not included in the trust during your lifetime is transferred into the trust at your death), a living will (also known as an advanced directive), a health care proxy, a power of attorney, HIPAA authorizations, and an appointment of guardianship if you have minor children.

 

If you think that a living trust is something you and your family would benefit from, please contact the attorneys at Broadbent & Taylor today to schedule a free initial consultation.

The Importance of Having an Estate Plan

Many people, especially those who are still young and unattached, do not think that they need to have an estate plan. If you are like most people, you hear the phrase “estate planning” and think that that is only something that old people need to worry about. This is a terrible misconception. The truth of the matter is, it is important for all adults – young or old, married or unmarried, children or no children – to have at least a basic estate plan. Creating an estate plan can be a difficult task to accomplish, as it forces you to face your own mortality; however, the importance of having your estate – big or small as it may be – in order will provide both you and your loved ones with peace of mind. 

 

I don’t have a lot of stuff, do I really need to have an estate plan?

YES! It may not seem like you have a lot, but if you stop and think about it, you probably have more than you think. A bank account. A car. Life Insurance. A retirement plan. What will happen to all of these things when you are gone? That is exactly what an estate plan helps you to figure out. Having a well-planned estate includes much more that a will. It involves creating a plan for the effective disposition of all of your property.

 

OK, I get it, an estate plan is something I need to do, but what exactly is an estate plan?

There are a certain documents that, regardless of your situation in life, everyone need. These documents are: a will, a power of attorney, and a medical directive. 

 

A will is a legal document that disposes of a person’s tangible personal property. A will also appoints the person who will be responsible for carrying out your wishes. This person is generally called the executor or personal representative.

 

It is important to note, however, that a will can only dictate the disposition of probate property. This does not include things such as: life insurance, bank accounts, investments, and retirement accounts. These assets pass outside of probate to a beneficiary named by you.

 

Without a will, your property will be distributed according to state law. Not only may this result in the disposition of your property in a manner not in accordance with your wishes, it may also leave your estate more vulnerable to estate taxes depending on the value of your estate. 

 

If you have minor children, one of the most important reasons to have a will is to appoint a guardian. The guardian is the person who will care for your children if both parents were to pass away. If a guardian is not appointed, the court will appoint a guardian. This may result in the selection of a guardian you would not have chosen, and will result in additional time, stress, and money.

 

A power of attorney allows you to name an individual to act on your behalf with regard to financial transactions in the event you become incapacitated. In the unfortunate event that you become incapacitated, having a power of attorney already in place will reduce the time, cost and anxiety associated with having someone appointed by the court. With a power of attorney you are able to choose a person you know and trust to handle your financial affairs in the event you are unable to. Furthermore, a power of attorney takes effect immediately, so there will be no delay in the handling of your finances. A power of attorney may be general or limited, meaning you will be able to dictate the scope of power granted in the power of attorney.

 

A medical directive  is a compilation of a couple of documents that spell out your desires in the event you become unable to voice your own desires regarding medical care. Someone you are close with and knows your medical wishes should be named as your health care proxy. This person will be able to make decisions regarding your medical treatment in the event you are unable to do so yourself. A living will may direct that life support be withdrawn if you are in a permanent vegetative state 

 

I have an estate plan, now I never have to worry about it again. Right?

WRONG! It is important to review your estate plan every several years to ensure that it still accurately reflects your wishes. Furthermore, laws change and may affect your estate plan. This is especially an issue in the context of estate taxation. These laws tend to change frequently and could dramatically affect your estate plan. Contact your attorney every few years to see if there have been any changes in the law since you last spoke that may impact your existing plan.

Why Do It Yourself Wills Spell Trouble

Nowadays you can find everything you need online from clothes and books to legal documents.  Even better than the convenience of the internet are the prices.  You can generally find anything you want for less online.  This includes legal documents.  A simple Google search for “sample will” will return thousands of results – any one of which you can click on and be guided through writing your will.  Easy . . . Fast . . . Cheap . . . DANGEROUS!  You are not getting the same service from an internet form as you would from a licensed attorney.  These websites cannot give you legal advice.  They are not designed to look at your wants and needs and devise an appropriate estate plan.  All these websites provide is a bunch of blanks for you to fill in and it spits out a generic will that may or may not be effective.  Your information is entered into the generic form regardless of whether it makes sense or is a good idea. A website cannot recommend that rather than having assets tranfer directly to a person, you may be better off having those assets transferred into a trust with that person as the beneficiary.  A website cannot advise you about potential tax consequences.  A website does not recommend other documents that will comprise a full estate plan, which includes a number of other documents in addition to the will.  The long and the short of it is that websites do not provide the personalized service and advice you will receive from a licensed attorney.  Online document services only spit out “one-size-fits-all” generic documents that may not do anything at all.  These services cannot guarantee a specific legal result, which could result in a huge mess for your loved ones when you are gone.  All these services can gurantee is a good price.  Unfortunately, there is no way for an individual to know whether the will they created using an online document service is effective.  Their family will know, though, when they are dealing with cleaning up the mess created by a DIY will.  Don’t risk it.  Consult an attorney to discuss your estate planning needs.

Written by Catherine Taylor, Esq.