Ed. Note: In this new quarterly column, Sarah Sanders, associate attorney at Montecito Law Group with an office in Carpinteria, will be sharing her expertise and insight into estate planning with CVN readers.
Contrary to common perception, estate planning can be an approachable subject; it’s all in how you frame it! Here are 11 estate planning tips to inspire you to start, or continue, conversations with your loved ones that lead to taking action.
1. Assemble a team of professionals that can offer practical advice and champion your goals. Include a financial advisor, CPA and an estate planning attorney. Make sure you would feel comfortable working with them in an emergency. Family and friends are great sources for referrals.
2. Ensure that your loved ones know where they can find your important estate planning documents, financial documents, passwords, safe deposit box or safe, jewelry, life insurance policies, heirlooms, etc., to assist your family if someone needs to step into your shoes in an emergency. For a free Family Road Map to help you organize important details for your loved ones, visit montecitolawgroup.com.
3. Set yourself and your family up for success if you lose capacity, or in the event of your death, by creating an estate plan with an estate planning attorney. Most families benefit from a simple, revocable living trust in addition to important emergency documents such as a power of attorney and healthcare directive.
4. Discuss your wishes for medical care and end-of-life care with your loved ones. What sort of life-saving measures would you want medical professionals to provide in an emergency situation if you are unable to speak on your own behalf? Where do you draw the line?
5. Share your final wishes with loved ones. Are you comfortable with organ donation? Do you prefer cremation or burial? Any special place you would like your ashes to be spread?
6. Ask your attorney whether particular accounts should be titled in the name of your trust or name beneficiaries. For accounts that have transfer-on-death beneficiaries, designate a primary beneficiary and backup beneficiaries in case your first choice is unavailable.
7. Creating an estate plan is an excellent start, but don’t become complacent with stale or outdated documents. Review your plan every three to five years to ensure the right people are still serving in each role and everything aligns with your current medical, financial and familial circumstances.
8. A significant change in circumstance should trigger a more immediate review of your estate planning documents with your attorney. This includes the birth of a child; a marriage or divorce; a death of a named agent or beneficiary; a family member develops special needs; a falling out or souring of a relationship; receiving an inheritance; starting a business; or purchasing or selling real estate property. As life evolves, your plan may need to evolve, too.
9. Set your plan up for success by carefully selecting the right people to fill various roles. The best people to serve in financial positions should be trustworthy and responsible. The ideal people to serve in medical roles should know your values, be steadfast in stressful situations and be readily available to make hard decisions. Brainstorm good backups in case your first choice is not available.
10. Have an attorney review the title on your real property deeds to ensure you are utilizing all available tax advantages. Simple changes in title can save hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital gains taxes.
11. Celebrate! Treat yourself to a special meal at any of the wonderful restaurants in town or a self-indulgent spa day as a reward for making things simpler for your family. The grieving process does not need to be made more burdensome for your loved ones by causing them to go through probate, incur unnecessary expenses and delays, or otherwise leave them with confusion or conflict as they deal with your estate and distribute assets.
Sarah Sanders is an associate attorney at Montecito Law Group assisting families with estate planning, trust administration, and probate. She has a satellite office in Carpinteria to serve the local community. Sarah is excited to share the importance of estate planning in her quarterly CVN column. She enjoys reading, baking, running and scoping out the pastries at The Food Liaison. If you have any questions or suggestions for future columns, e-mail her at [email protected]