Friday, January 3, 2014

Things to Know Before Starting Your Estate Plan

What You Need to Know Before Starting Your Estate Plan: 3 Facts That Will Protect Your Family

As you start this new year, you may be thinking of finally finishing the traditional resolution of completing your Will or estate plan. That's great and there are several things you will want to know and understand before starting. In this article we explore what those are and how not knowing them is hazardous to yourself and family.

As a Colorado estate planning attorney, I have seen examples of how ignoring these simple rules can prevent a Will or estate plan from working.There is no value to a Will or estate plan that fails or fails to accomplish your goals. Since your objectives drive the estate planning process, that leads us to the first rule:

1. Your Will and Estate Plan Require Thought and Consideration.

To be more accurate, we should pair those two words and say that your estate plan requires thoughtful consideration. Such deliberation is required from you and from your estate planner. Why is this so? Consideration is necessary because everyone's situation and family are unique. There is no one who is you or even like you. Our family structures vary, have different issues and with today's more and more common blending of families, this couldn't be more true.

Your individuality and your unique family means that your estate plan and your Will will not look like anyone else's. You need to think through ALL of the factors and issues that lead to what you are trying to accomplish with your family yourself. Let's list some examples to illustrate this point:

     1. Do you have particular people you want as your decision makers if you are incapacitated or upon death? This makes you unique.

     2. If you have kids, do you care who will raise them if you are not here to do so? If so, this makes your situation special and those desires need to be considered.

     3. Do you want to protect your spouse from creditors and predators when you die?

     4. Do you want your spouse to leave your assets to a new spouse or relationship upon your death?

These are only four of hundreds of factors and issues that a qualified estate planning specialist will review with you as you embark on the design of your estate plan. Without thoughtful consideration, there can be no thoughtful and useful estate plan. Ever.

The next rule to be aware of involves something known as commodization. A recent development is the treatment of your Will and estate plan as a commodity, something that you can just buy at a store or off the internet. That leads to rule number 2:

2. Wills and Estate Plans Are Not Commodities-As Products vs. Plans, They Always Fail.

As an estate planning specialist, I was trained and I believe that estate planning involves something critical and that critical element is in it's name, PLANNING. Wills are not like hamburgers or fruit that you just buy from some street vendor or shopping mall. Notice the picture below, this is what the internet looks like if you are using it to buy a form. That's right, the internet is just one big street bazaar.

Some would have you believe that you can just drive by, or surf on the internet purchase a Will or estate plan. You can't, these don't work and represent a boondoggle for estate lawyers like myself to straighten out. Your Will is not a piece of fruit and if you treat like one, it will be rotten before you need it and after you do need it, it's too late to fix.

So what is missing from these internet Wills and fill in the blank  form documents? The element that makes estate planning special, the planning element. It is the planning element that takes into account the first rule, that one above we discussed known as thoughtful consideration. If you treat your estate plan as a commodity, a piece of fruit, you are saying that your situation, your family, your spouse, your kids, your goals and objectives don't count. Simply stated, that is not estate planning.

On to our last rule, your plan and your property must be synchronized in order for the plan to work. So our last of the three rules is:

3. Property Must be Titled Correctly and Beneficiary Designations Must be Coordinated with the Estate Plan.

Several years ago there was a movie titled, Failure to Launch.  It was a romantic comedy about someone who just couldn't get their life in order to have a successful relationship. Well much the same is true about your estate plan. It won't matter how good your plan and documents are if the plan fails due to improper titling and beneficiary designations.

This is another example of the "planning" part of estate planning. A qualified estate planning specialist can guide you to ensure that all property is correctly titled and that any beneficiary designations are properly drafted. By doing so, you will know that the effort you put into your plan will be worth it.

What are your thoughts about these three rules? Please join our conversation and let me know of any questions you may have. Feel free to email me or call me at the contact information provided. Thank you fr your interest in protecting yourself and your family.

Bernie Greenberg

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