6 Steps to Preparing/Organizing Your Estate
This guide is intended to encourage you to assess whether you have taken some of the most basic steps in preparing yourself for the elder years. The following are my suggestions for you to consider.
1- Review and organize your estate planning documents.Locate, review and organize your important legal documents such as your original Will, any Trusts you may have executed, Powers of Attorney, Health Care Proxies, deeds to your properties, mortgage notes, insurance policies, bank records, tax returns, passports, birth certificates, etc.
Organizing and reviewing these documents will allow you to revisit matters you may have ignored for years and allow you to think about whether or not they need to be revised. For example, the Will you may have prepared when you were newly married with minor children may not be reflective of your current state of affairs or wishes. Furthermore, your existing Will or titling of your assets may not allow for appropriate estate tax planning on your death or the death of your spouse. You may also need to change your Executors and/or Trustees for various reasons.
An extremely important document to have when one ages (in many cases more important than your Will and many times improperly drafted), is the Durable Power of Attorney. It is very important that the Power of Attorney be Durable (survive a potential subsequent incapacity) and be sufficiently broad to allow the agent to take all steps necessary to protect and preserve your assets in the event of your incapacity. A particularly substantial benefit of this type of a broad Power of Attorney, is that it can help avoid many costly and lengthy Guardianship proceedings.
I would also recommend you let your loved ones know where these legal documents are located. Do not place your Will, Power of Attorney or Health Care proxy in a safe deposit box unless someone other than yourself has a key and is an authorized signatory on the box. Even if your safe deposit box has a joint owner, the box will be sealed when you die and can only be opened via court order. Some people choose to keep their original Wills in a sealed container in their freezers because in the event of a typical house fire, they would be preserved. Another frequently used alternative if for your attorney to store it (in a fire proof safe).
2- Take necessary steps to protect your assets and savings in the event you may need long term careAlthough it is very unpleasant to think about a disability as a result of a stroke, heart attack or tragic accident, those who plan ahead are usually better prepared to handle the consequences (at least financially). Purchasing a long term care insurance policy should strongly be considered--especially for those in relatively good health and in their mid-50s. As you are closer to 65, you should consider using a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust.
3- Review all existing insurance policiesIs your life insurance policy adequate? Is it whole life or universal, term? From an estate tax planning perspective, it may be useful to have the policy owned by an irrevocable life insurance trust so as to include the death benefit from inclusion in your estate and therefore avoid a hefty estate tax. Your currently policy may also not be a wise investment in the current low interest rate environment.
4- Gather and maintain financial and bank records for at least the past 5 yearsIt is difficult to locate these records at a time of crisis such as the onset of an illness or death. If you will need to apply for Medicaid to cover nursing home expenses, you will need the last five years of all bank and investment account statements and records. Doing this tedious work in advance can save time and money. It takes months for a Medicaid application to be approved and even longer to prepare one if the financial records are not readily available.
5- Review and assess any retirement benefits you may be entitled to.You can plan for the appropriate age for your retirement based on an estimate of your social security benefits, IRA distributions, annuities and pension plans. Keep in mind that if Medicaid becomes necessary after retirement (age 65), or in the event of a disability, you can shelter a high income and still be entitled to community Medicaid.
6- Review or make burial arrangementsPurchasing a burial plot and potentially pre-paying a funeral can alleviate a good deal of stress from your family and loved ones upon your death. There is also a benefit from a Medicaid planning perspective in spending down some of your resources on such arrangements.
I have many clients approach me when it is no longer possible to plan or very difficult to plan wisely for retirement or medical insurance, such as when they have become unexpectedly disabled or ill. Many times Wills and Powers of Attorney are improperly drafted or executed. We can try to avoid these costly mistakes by acting now. Call my office and schedule your consultation today.