Many of us hear the word “estate” and immediately think of extremely wealthy individuals. However, every single person has an estate. Estates are considered to be all the things you own at the time of your passing or in the event that you become incapacitated. This can include everything from personal possessions such as the items and furniture in your home to larger assets such as the home itself, automobiles and property. In addition, your estate includes the sum of all of your banking accounts, investments, life insurance policies and anything else of monetary value.

Regardless of the size of your estate, you and your family deserve to have the proper plans in place to ensure that your exact wishes are carried out. Estate planning helps determine who receives what from your estate and when they will receive it. It’s important for any family to have this protection in place, especially as family members begin to age. With estate planning, you will have peace of mind knowing that your family is taken care of in the way you wish.

In order to best approach estate planning, let’s go over what exactly estate planning is all about, the documents you’ll need to get started and how an experienced estate lawyer can help streamline the process.

What Constitutes Estate Planning?

Planning your estate involves much more than simply having a will or a trust. While a will or trust is a good first step, comprehensive estate planning includes more details to ensure that every aspect of your wishes is carried out seamlessly for your family members.

Like a will, estate planning outlines what will happen to your assets when you pass away. But estate planning also transfers control of your assets and care to designated family members in the event that you become incapacitated. Estate planning also makes it easier for your family to handle your estate, as it includes a plan on how to execute your wishes. Some of the functions of estate planning include:

  • Provide detailed instructions on your medical care and financial affairs in the event that you become incapacitated and unable to handle those details yourself
  • Establish guardianship for a minor’s care
  • Arrange for disability insurance to replace lost wages
  • Arrange for life insurance to provide for your beneficiaries
  • Establish guidelines for business affairs
  • Provide for special needs beneficiaries without interfering with government benefits
  • Provide for beneficiaries who need extra financial protection due to creditors, divorce or irresponsibility with finances
  • Minimize costs associated with inheritance and death benefits such as taxes, legal fees, court costs, etc.

One of the key differences between estate planning and a will or trust is that estate planning is usually an ongoing process that changes as your needs, life and financial affairs change. This ensures that you’re prepared and your family is provided for no matter what happens in life.

Who Is Estate Planning For?

Generally, estate planning is pursued by older individuals or by family members of someone who is aging or ill. Although many people wait until they are older to think about estate planning, it’s important to remember that everyone can benefit from it. This is because we cannot predict how or when an unexpected event may result in our death or incapacitation.

Illnesses, injuries and accidents happen every day to people of all ages. Regardless of your age or health, estate planning can help streamline the distribution of your assets upon your death and ensure that your family is taken care of.

What Documents Are Essential for Estate Planning?

To ensure proper estate planning, there are several documents that can be helpful to have. Not every person will need every document in this list; the specific documents you’ll need will depend on your situation and needs.

  • Will: Document that determines what happens with your assets and names an executor who is in charge of following your wishes
  • Trust: Tool for passing assets to heirs that names a trustee to manage property
  • Durable power of attorney: Document that provides proof of who you have chosen to act on your behalf financially and legally in the event that you are incapacitated
  • Healthcare power of attorney: Document that provides your end-of-life care wishes and proof of who you have chosen to act on your behalf medically in the event that you’re incapacitated
  • Beneficiary designations: Documents that provide proof of who you have chosen to be your beneficiaries
  • Letter of intent: A letter that outlines any other requests regarding your wishes and includes important personal or financial information that doesn’t belong in a will (e.g., details regarding your memorial service and burial)
  • Guardianship designations: Document that provides proof of who you have chosen to act as legal guardians of minors
  • Important documents: All documents that may be of use to your family, such as banking information, divorce papers, marriage certificates, adoption papers, birth certificates, social security cards, real estate deeds, stocks/bonds and proof of insurance policies.

What’s the Process of Estate Planning Like?

Estate planning begins with compiling a list of all of your assets (physical and financial) and debts, including banking information and contact information. Then you’ll begin outlining what should happen to all of your assets when you pass away or are incapacitated.This will help your attorney determine the best course of action so that your family can honor your exact wishes and you can plan to help keep your family out of probate court.

In addition, you’ll determine who will take care of your children and loved ones, including naming guardians and addressing the financial needs of your beneficiaries. In doing estate planning, you’re not only providing for your beneficiaries but also protecting them against unnecessary expenses and taxes as well as issues with government benefits.

The process of estate planning can be overwhelming and confusing for many. In addition, every person’s needs regarding their estate planning will be different. Some individuals may have minors to arrange care for while others may wish to donate much of their estate to charity. Estate planning will look different for each person. For these reasons, many turn to an experienced estate planning attorney.

The Law Offices of Kimberly Butler Rainen Can Help

The process of estate planning can be mentally and emotionally taxing. Seeking guidance from an attorney who has not only experience with estate planning but also a deep level of care and understanding for the unique needs of their clients is key to a successful estate plan. Unlike cookie-cutter estate planning, working with an attorney can help you create a fully customized estate plan that is tailored to the needs of your family — regardless of how large or small your estate is. An experienced estate planning attorney has your interest at heart and can help you ensure your exact wishes are carried out.

With attention to detail, a custom approach and a keen understanding of estate planning, The Law Offices of Kimberly Butler Rainen can help streamline the process. Contact The Law Offices of Kimberly Butler Rainen today to schedule your estate planning consultation, and let us help you bring peace of mind to your family.