Most of us have considered the estate planning basics. Who do I want to inherit my assets? Should I use a living trust? However, many important details are often overlooked. These tiny details can mean the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful estate plan.
Important Estate Planning Details
Probate is the legal process that occurs after you die. The probate court first validates your will. Then, the court ensures that your assets are distributed to your beneficiaries according to your will. People often forget how time consuming, costly, and frustrating the probate process can be. The process can last anywhere from six months to a year or longer. The estate is also required to pay court fees and attorney fees incurred along the way.
Before you leave significant assets to someone, it is important to consider their financial and personal situation. You must consider their potential debt, likelihood of divorce, potential for financial mismanagement and their eligibility for government benefits. For example, Medicaid has a strict cap on how many assets you may own before you are ineligible for the program. If your loved one, such as a family member with special needs, who is on Medicaid, suddenly receives an influx of money, they might no longer be able to participate in the program.
Currently, an individual’s estate is exempt from the estate tax if it is valued at less than $5.34 million. However, for married couples especially, it may be prudent to still incorporate some basic estate tax planning provisions in case Congress lowers the estate tax exemption in the future.
Similarly, an estate planning attorney can advise you as to how you can position your estate to properly minimize income taxes on real estate, investments and retirement accounts when you pass those assets on to your children.
Many financial assets allow you to designate a beneficiary when you create the account. The beneficiary automatically inherits the account if you die. However, you must remember that beneficiary designations override your will; meaning that your estate-plan and beneficiary designations should align with one another. Some common financial assets with beneficiary designations include life insurance policies, annuities, bank accounts and retirement accounts.
Executor’s Access to Documents
It is recommended that you sit down and create a master list of what financial assets you own, where they are located, the account numbers and any secret access information (such as usernames and passwords). Adding a list of your creditors can also save your executor time and money. This is because all creditors must be paid before your estate can be distributed to your heirs. In our office, for example, we create detailed asset reports for most of our estate planning clients, which can later be an invaluable tool for their executors and trustees, saving them countless hours and headaches in tracking down account information.
If you have any additional questions about creating an estate plan, please call our office at (919) 443-3035 for a free phone consultation or contact us online. At the end of the call, you’ll know the next step and at a minimum, we’ll point you in the direction of resources that can help you. There is no obligation to you.