ESTATE PLANNING: A NEW VOCABULARY

I’m generally not a popular person at parties when I answer the question “What do you do?” Immediately people give me the “Oh” and take a step back…like I’m the Grim Reaper. Estate planning documents and the people who draft them tend to make people immediately think of dire circumstances, death, catastrophe – things you don’t want to think about.

I’d like to give us all a new vocabulary and a new way to think about this process that takes the angst out of the planning component. Here goes…ultimately an estate plan is about the following:

  1. Permission Slips
  2. Instructions
  3. Control
  4. Privacy

Permission Slips

Adults need them too…without the following properly executed permission slips we cannot get help from the people of our choosing when we need it:

  1. Durable Power of Attorney (financial and legal permission slip); and
  2. Health Care Proxy (permission slip to speak with a doctor and make medical decisions)

Instructions

We all have some idea of how we want events to occur and how we want our “stuff” and money administered when we can no longer do so for ourselves. The appropriately drafted and executed set of instructions help us fulfill that:

  1. Living Will (what, if any, extraordinary measures do you want to receive)
  2. Revocable Trust (who gets what and when)
  3. Will (distribute personal property (stuff) and some financial assets/less desirable way to distribute)

Control

If you have young children (or even some adult children), do you want to hand them a very large check and say, “good luck?” Is there someone in your family you know you DON’T want to have access to your money, family members, paintings, car, pets, etc.? Do you want the State to distribute your assets for you? If the answer to any of these questions is “no” then a properly drafted and executed estate plan can help you avoid all the above:

  1. Revocable Trust (who gets what and when and/or under what conditions)
  2. Will (less desirable who gets what and when)

Privacy

Do you want the world to know your business? Probate is a public process. At its most basic level, it’s the filing of a Will, a Death Certificate and a request to name someone as your Personal Representative (f/k/a Executor). These are public records and anyone who wants a copy can go and get one. Probate can also reveal assets and the names of all your beneficiaries (addresses too). If privacy for assets and family/friends matters, a properly drafted and executed estate plan can help keep your privacy:

  1. Revocable Trust
  2. Will (naming a Revocable Trust as residue beneficiary keeps distribution terms private)

So, next time I’m asked, I write Permission Slips for adults, help adults document their desired Instructions, to maintain Control and Privacy for their loved ones and their assets. Let’s chat!