In honor of National Estate Planning Awareness Week, we invited estate attorney Virginia Hammerle on the show to break down how to tackle the often emotionally fraught topic. Hammerle says instead of diving in head-first, it is helpful “to focus on an isolated issue, like titling of a bank account or making a beneficiary designation,” which can lead to a broader discussion of family finances and estate planning.
Once you break the ice and start the process, figure out what you are trying to accomplish and try not “to get stuck on the next fifty years,” says Hammerle. “Every estate plan can be changed and in fact should be revisited every few years." Here are the basic documents that you will likely draft:
- Will: A legal document that ensures that your assets are passed to your designated beneficiaries, in accordance with your wishes. In the drafting process, you name an executor, who is the person or institution that oversees the distribution of your assets. If you have minor children, you need to name a guardian for them.
- Letter of Instruction: This may also contain appointment of someone who will ensure for the proper disposition of your remains. This is especially important if you are choosing something that is contrary to your family’s tradition.
- Power of Attorney: Appointment of someone to act as your agent in a variety of circumstances, like withdrawing money from a bank, responding to a tax inquiry or making a trade.
- Health Care Proxy: Appointment of someone to make health care decisions on your behalf if you lose the ability to do so
- Trusts: Many have either revocable (changeable) or irrevocable (not-changeable), depending on family and tax situations. For 2016, the first $5.45 million of an estate is exempt from federal estate taxes. If an estate is above the threshold (or twice that for married couples), a revocable trust may be suitable to consider.
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