Estate Planning Awareness Week: The Importance to You and Your Family of Having an Estate Plan
In 2008, Congress recognized the need for the public to understand the importance and benefits of estate planning by passing House Resolution 1499, which designated the third week of October as National Estate Planning Awareness Week. Nevertheless, according to a 2019 survey carried out by Caring.com, 57% of adults in the United States have not prepared any estate planning documents such as a will or trust despite the fact that 76% viewed them as important. Many of the respondents said this was due to procrastination, but many others mistakenly believed that it was because they did not have many assets.
Why should you have an estate plan?
An estate plan can provide significant peace of mind by ensuring your assets are protected, plans are in place in the event you become ill, and your property is passed down according to your wishes.
What key topics should you consider?
- Do you have a last will and testament and/or a trust? If you do not have these important documents, state law will determine who will inherit your property—and thus it may not occur in the way you would have chosen. In addition, someone appointed by the court, instead of a trusted person of your choosing, will be in charge of caring for any children or pets. Spelling out your wishes in a will or trust will also prevent unnecessary confusion, anxiety, and expense for other family members when you are gone.
- Has a proper power of attorney been prepared? A financial power of attorney will allow you to designate an individual to make financial and property decisions for you should you become unable to handle your own affairs.
- Make sure that you have medical advanced directives, also called a living will and health care surrogate, which memorializes your wishes concerning your end of life care, such as whether you would like to receive life support if you are in a vegetative state or terminal condition, and who will make medical decisions for you if you are otherwise unable to speak for yourself.
- If you have minor children or an adult dependent on you for financial care? Putting a plan together now ensures that if you are unable to care for dependents yourself, the people you choose can provide care for your minor children or other dependents.
- Do you have insurance? If you become incapacitated or die, it is important for your family or loved ones to have information about your insurance (such as life, health, disability, longterm care, etc.) so that claims can be filed. Having life insurance is especially important if you are the primary financial provider for your household or you have minor children or other dependents to ensure that they have the financial means in case you can no longer provide for them.
- Compile a list of all of your accounts and other important information, including bank and investment accounts, titles to vehicles and homes, credit card accounts or loans, digital accounts (such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) and passwords, Social Security cards, passports and birth certificates, which may be needed to manage your property when you are incapacitated or settle your estate once you are gone. This information should be kept in a safe place and shared only with trusted family members or loved ones.
- A list of legal, financial, and medical professionals who have performed services for you is also important. The list should include their contact information so your family can easily reach them in the event their help is needed if you become disabled or die. If desired, you should also ensure HIPAA authorizations are in place with medical professionals so that your family members are able to obtain needed information.
Consult an estate planning attorney. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you and your family members create an estate plan tailored to meet each of your unique needs and carry out your wishes—or help you update a pre-existing estate plan. We can provide each family member with guidance and information about the options available to them. We can help each of you put a plan in place that will prevent unnecessary stress, legal expenses and taxes, uneven inheritances, disputes between family members, and delays in passing life savings on to loved ones. In addition, it will provide you and your family members with the peace of mind that comes with knowing there are plans in place for your care if any of you become ill and that your wishes will be honored once you pass away. Call us today to set up a meeting.
Julia C. McKillop
Julia drafts estate plans, wills, trust agreements, and end-of-life advance directives for individuals and families across Florida. She helps people of all ages and every situation by designing personalized estate plans so that if crisis hits, her clients' wishes and needs are met.
Julia is a graduate of the University of Florida Levin College of Law and is a senior partner at McKillop Law Firm. Prior to becoming a lawyer, Julia lived in Chile teaching English as a second language. Upon returning to the States, she worked in Miami as a paralegal, ultimately deciding to go to law school in order to put her life experiences to work as an advocate and counselor. Julia has two young sons and works out of the Sarasota office.