Estate plans were once thought of as something for the wealthy. However, many people have discovered that even middle-class families benefit from having an estate plan.
What is the difference between an estate plan and a will?
A will is a document that states your final wishes and instructions for care for minor children. A will is part of an estate plan but can be used without a plan as well. An estate plan includes a will but it also controls the distribution of your assets.
Why do I need an estate plan?
If you have any assets to pass onto your heirs, you need an estate plan. A large estate isn’t required to need a plan. Estate planning protects the beneficiaries and gives you control over what happens to your estate when you are gone or become mentally incapacitated. Without an estate plan, the decision of who controls your assets will be decided by a court. This can take months and even years to settle and it can be quite costly for those you leave behind.
Your will is one part of your estate plan. We briefly mentioned that a will contains your wishes for who will care for any minor children you may have at the time of your death. Without a will, the courts will decide who will raise your children. The same applies to pets. If you want to make sure Dottie the Dachshund and Pepper the Dalmatian go to someone who will care for them as you do, you need a will.
Estate plans also allow individualized plans for each of your heirs. These plans may include instructions for the care of a special needs child and trusts so you can control how and when your heirs receive a financial inheritance.
You’ll also include beneficiary forms for bank, investment, and retirement accounts as well as life insurance policies. Keeping all these forms together in one plan allows you and your attorney to ensure the beneficiaries on your accounts and in your will line up. It also makes it easier for your family to know your full assets upon your passing.
In addition to keeping the courts out of your final plans, estate planning protects your heirs from a hefty tax burden. You’ll also want to spare your heirs from squabbling with one another over who gets to keep the house and who gets Dad’s classic convertible. Family disputes over left-behind assets can lead to lifelong division among siblings and other relatives.
Finally, an estate plan isn’t just for your family after your death, it’s for you while you’re living. Your estate plan should include both durable powers of attorney and a living will. This ensures the person you want to manage your health if you’re incapacitated is in charge and that decisions are made according to your wishes.
Don’t wait until it’s too late to decide to create an estate plan. Even young adults should begin planning their estate especially if they have children. Estate planning is even more important for middle-aged adults and the elderly.
A critical step in estate planning is choosing the right attorney to handle the legal side of the plan. The attorneys at Stiles Law Firm are highly experienced and ready to help you make the right decisions regarding your final plans. To learn more about how we can help you, book a free consultation with The Stiles Law Firm today.