Taking the time and attention to write a will and set up a trust — or a couple of trusts — are acts of generosity that your heirs and loved ones will appreciate in their time of grief. To do it right, you need to keep track of the people and papers involved, plan for incapacity, and know what you need from an estate plan, then review your plan regularly and especially after significant life changes.

Will and trust items to keep track of

You’ve gone to the necessary trouble of drawing up your will and perhaps creating a trust. Now you need to make a list of the locations of important papers and make sure that you and at least one other trusted person knows where the list is so that they can find your documents when the need arises. Include the locations of the following items:

  • Your will
  • Your trust(s)
  • Your healthcare proxy
  • Your living will
  • Your durable power of attorney
  • Your tax records
  • Your safe deposit box

People who can help with your estate plan

When it comes to your estate plan, maintaining current contact information for the people who have agreed to serve in roles such as trustee, personal representative, or custodian for your minor children is important. Also, any professionals who helped you set up your will and trusts can be useful not only during the creation of these documents, but also later on if you want to make changes. They can be invaluable resources for your executor and loved ones when the time comes. Keep a list of the names, addresses, and phone numbers of the following professionals and helpers:

  • Your personal representative
  • Your trustee
  • The guardian for your children
  • Your attorney-in-fact
  • Your healthcare advocate
  • Your estate planning lawyer (if you used one)
  • Your accountant (if you have one)

When to review your estate plan

You should review your estate plan, including your will and any trusts, on a periodic basis to be sure that your inheritance and disability planning remains consistent with your needs and goals. In addition, you should review your estate plan upon significant life changes, including:

  • Marriage, separation or divorce
  • Birth or adoption of a child
  • Death of an heir
  • Move to another state
  • Significant changes in your health
  • Significant changes in your financial condition

How to prepare for a meeting with an estate planning lawyer

If you don’t want to plan your own estate, or are concerned about the complexity of your estate plan and want your will and trust to be legal, it makes sense to meet with a lawyer to form your estate plan. Lawyers who specialize in estate planning can help you cover all contingencies and help make sure that your plan is complete. Use the tips in the following list to prepare for your meeting:

  • Ask about your lawyer’s experience. You’ll benefit if your lawyer is experienced working with estates similar to yours.
  • Before you meet an estate planning lawyer, most law offices will provide you with a questionnaire to complete and a list of documents to take with you to your meeting. You will save time and possibly money by completing the questionnaire and compiling the documents before your consultation.
  • Be clear on what estate planning documents are included in your estate plan and what your lawyer will charge to complete those documents. Get an estimate of how much your complete estate plan will cost.
  • Discuss estate taxes with your lawyer. Estate tax exemptions are presently very generous, but those exemptions will change over time. Your lawyer can help you figure out whether your estate is likely to have to pay estate taxes and, if so, how to minimize or avoid them.
  • Discuss any special circumstances with your lawyer. Do you have a family business? An heir with a disability? Children from a prior marriage or relationship? To properly plan your estate, your lawyer needs to know your needs.

How to prepare for an incapacity in your estate plan

It’s not easy to think about, but your estate plan and living trust need to include provisions that go into effect if you become incapacitated for any reason. Your family will be grateful for your forethought. Keep in mind the following points about planning for incapacity:

  • If you don’t create a plan for your incapacity, a court may appoint somebody to oversee your personal and financial needs. By planning for incapacity, you can choose the people who will help you, provide them with guidance as to your wishes, impose limits on their powers, or grant them powers beyond what a court may allow.
  • Your durable power of attorney designates the person who can assist you with your financial affairs or manage them on your behalf.
  • Your healthcare proxy grants authority to the person who you have chosen to assist you with decisions concerning your medical care or make those decisions for you consistent with your instructions.
  • You can provide within your living trust for your trustee to gain immediate authority over your trust assets if you become incapacitated.
  • Your living will provides guidance to your family and doctors as to the type of treatment you want (and don’t want) during the final days of your life.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Aaron Larson, JD, is an attorney practicing law in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Larson started his practice as a quintessential small town lawyer, providing estate planning, probate, and guardianship services. He then worked for the Institute of Continuing Legal Education in Ann Arbor, where he developed professional education programs for lawyers in areas including estate planning, litigation, and family law. His legal practice now focuses on civil appeals. He operates the ExpertLaw website (expertlaw.com), offering free legal information and assistance to consumers, as well as resources for legal professionals.

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