By Matthew DeGioia, Esq.
The idea of preparing an estate plan can be overwhelming for many people. How does one begin to ensure that every piece of art, jewelry, knick-knack, and dime is correctly accounted for in one’s estate plan?
Here are six indispensable documents you should consider when crafting your estate plan.
1. Last Will and Testament
Whenever someone thinks about an estate plan, the first thing they tend to think about is creating a Last Will and Testament. This is an important place to begin. If you die without a valid Will, the Maryland Intestacy Laws will determine who will inherit your property first and the percentage of the estate each person is entitled to.
A Last Will and Testament directs the distribution of any property titled in your individual name. This includes any money and possessions you may own, including furniture, clothing, and jewelry. You can devise your personal property to specific family members and friends who you want to inherit from your estate. Suppose you don’t mind how your estate is divided among your surviving family members. In that case, you can direct the beneficiaries to determine what personal property they would like to inherit from your estate, or you can have your estate evenly divided among your surviving beneficiaries. Further, suppose you want a family member to inherit from your estate but question their ability to manage their inheritance properly. In that case, you can create a testamentary trust that appoints a trustee to steward the inheritance for the family member’s benefit properly.
In your Will, you also have the opportunity to name the executor of your estate, otherwise known as the Personal Representative. This person will have to take possession of everything in your estate, ensure that all of the property in the estate is appropriately accounted for, and then, upon approval by the probate court, proceed with properly distributing the estate property to the beneficiaries of your Will. Since your Personal Representative will administer your probate estate through the probate courts, everything that your Personal Representative files concerning your estate, including the value of all of the property in the estate, is a matter of public record.
2. Beneficiary Designation Forms
While a Last Will and Testament can dispose of much of your estate, it does not effectively dispose of all of your assets. Assets that pass to beneficiaries under a contract, such as a life insurance policy, or assets in an IRA, 401(k), and other financial accounts, do not pass according to the terms of a Will or Trust. Instead, they pass according to a Beneficiary Designation Form. While many people regularly update their Wills, some need to remember to update their beneficiary designation forms. If you lose or gain a family member, you must update your beneficiary designations. This includes divorce, as your previous spouse may be listed as a beneficiary.
3. Living Trust Document
While it is optional to create a living trust document to dispose of your assets effectively, many people find creating one beneficial for an estate’s easy administration. A Living Trust is a revocable trust that serves as a Will-substitute. All property transferred into the trust avoids the probate process upon your death, giving you and your family greater privacy. A Living Trust can also direct the transfer of real estate title in more than one state, saving you thousands of dollars in additional costs of probate administration in multiple states.
4. Special Needs Trust
A Special Needs Trust is an irrevocable trust that is created to provide for the needs of a vulnerable or disabled family member. Creating a Special Needs Trust can be helpful to allow a family member to qualify for public benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid, and other forms of federal or state assistance, while still providing for their costs of care and necessities.
5. Power of Attorney
An effective estate plan does not merely govern how your assets are properly distributed upon death but also directs how you want you and your assets to be stewarded in the event you can no longer manage yourself and your funds in your best interest properly.
A Power of Attorney document allows you to appoint someone you trust to do business or other legal or financial matters on your behalf. Appointing an agent with a Power of Attorney document can prevent many difficulties if you become disabled or lack the capacity to make financial decisions for yourself. Financial institutions do not accept all Powers of Attorney documents, so you need to consult with an experienced estate planning lawyer to ensure that the language in the document is sufficient to allow your agent to act in the manner you want them to.
6. Healthcare Advance Directive
Similar to a Power of Attorney, a Healthcare Advance Directive is a document that allows you to appoint someone you trust to make your healthcare decisions for you if you cannot make them yourself. This person is sometimes referred to as a healthcare proxy. A Healthcare Advance Directive typically includes a “living will” where you can indicate your wishes regarding your treatment if you have a terminal or end-stage condition, or are in a persistent vegetative state. You also can provide your loved ones further instructions on how to dispose of your remains and whether you want your organs to be donated.
An effective estate plan eliminates the uncertainties that can arise in your final days and beyond. We are here to help put you and your loved ones at ease. If you have any questions about your estate plan, please get in touch with our office today for an estate planning consultation.
About Andalman & Flynn, P.C.: Founded in 1998 in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, Andalman & Flynn has forged a distinguished reputation for legal excellence. The firm practices family law throughout Maryland and the District of Columbia, and represents individuals seeking disability benefits throughout the country. The firm focuses on cases that impact the rights of everyone, and are there for clients when responsive legal help is most critical. The firm has provided legal analysis on national and local television and radio, and their attorneys often testify before legislative bodies and are routinely invited to contribute to prominent legal publications. For more information about Andalman & Flynn, please visit the website at andalmanflynn.com or call 301.563.6685.