Your estate is, basically, everything you own. At some point, everyone is going to die and estate planning is simply preparing in advance of your death for dealing with your assets, your liabilities, and any taxes which may be associated with the transference of your estate.
1. Identify, in writing, all assets, including powers of appointment and life insurance proceeds.
2. Determine what you want done with your assets at your death and take steps to deal with those assets prior to death.
3. Evaluate which estate planning tools available will best suit your wishes for distribution of your estate. The most common estate planning tools include wills, trusts, powers of attorney, advanced health care directives (sometimes referred to as living wills), joint tenancies, and guardianships.
4. Enact the estate plan and ensure that all needed action is taken. This would include ensuring all trusts are fully funded with intended assets, that all titles to property are properly in the name of the intended trust, confirming that you have the consent of those persons or entities you intend to have a role in your estate plan, and making sure that your estate plan is protected but, also, that it is known and available to your intended personal representative and/or the trustee of your trusts (the persons or entities you want to administer your estate). Consider, for instance, how useful is your will if it is locked in your safety deposit box to which only you have access or to which only you have knowledge? Upon your passing, the financial institution caring for your safety deposit box may not let your representatives access the deposit box without court authorization.
A careful estate plan is drafted with both the expected and unexpected in mind. For instance, it can address how to distribute assets when one of your intended beneficiaries dies before you or how to care for assets where the intended recipient may still be a minor. It may also address concerns over heirs who are not good with money and may have several creditors who would love to intercept the intended inheritance.
While your estate plan may not need a yearly check-up, it is wise to be familiar with it and to occasionally have it reviewed, particularly after major life events. Major life events such as marriage, divorce, adoption, birth of additional children or heirs, death of heirs, and substantial changes in assets and income can create a need for a modification of the estate plan or possibly even a new estate plan. Even if your estate and intended heirs have not changed, changes in the law in this field do occur. For instance, Utah's "Advance Health Care Directive" is a fairly recent change in the law. This could affect most Utah residents.
The occasional review of your estate plan is important and should not be neglected. Unless major changes are required, any attorney's fees incurred for this assistance should be relatively small.
Jon H. Rogers, Attorney at Law
Northgate Business Center 825 North 300 West Suite N144 Salt Lake City, Utah 84103