Many people mistakenly believe that their last will and testament is sufficient to protect their loved ones and ensure that their final wishes are carried out. While a will is important, an estate plan is more comprehensive and contains several other documents that work together to help protect your family before and after your death.
To begin creating your estate plan, you should first find an attorney who specializes in this area of law. You can do this by asking friends or family members for a recommendation or searching online. Once you’ve found an attorney, schedule a consultation visit and provide her with details about your finances, the makeup of your family and any special requests or considerations you wish to include in your plan.
Your estate plan should address how you want your property (real and personal) to be distributed after your death, as well as who should manage your estate and care for any minor children. It also addresses what should happen if you become incapacitated, including medical care and decision making. The most common estate planning documents are your last will and testament, trust, power of attorney, advance health care directives and beneficiary designations.
An estate plan can also address issues that may not be as clear as others, such as guardianship for any minor children you might have and tax reduction strategies. It can even prevent heirs from being exposed to public scrutiny and the potential for conflict or litigation, as well as provide a sense of security that your wealth will be used to support causes you care about.
A will is the most basic document and includes instructions on how you would like your property to be divided, as well as who should serve as executor of the estate. In addition, it identifies any individuals you’d like to have guardianship of your minor children, as well as names the trustees of any trusts you may establish in your plan.
In New York, if you die without a will, known as dying intestate, state law will determine how your assets are to be distributed. In this scenario, a surviving spouse is entitled to the first $50,000 of your estate and then half of the remaining balance is to be split equally among any surviving children. Your will can avoid this by clearly stating your wishes in the document.
It is a good idea to keep a list of all your assets, their values and where they are located. This can be a helpful resource for your family when you’re gone, as it will make it easier for them to locate and identify your belongings. You should also keep all of your identity documentation in one place, such as your Social Security card; birth, marriage and divorce certificates; bank account information; credit cards; mortgage and loan documents; investment portfolios; life, health and disability insurance policies and military discharge papers. This can be a useful tool for your family and can save time and money, as it will eliminate the need to dig through file cabinets to find the necessary paperwork.