- You have no estate plan! I cannot think of a reason why any adult should not have at least a Last Will and Testament, durable power of attorney, and advance directives (healthcare documents: living will [do you want artificial life support?] and healthcare power of attorney). If you die or become incapacitated without having any of these documents, state law controls what will happen, not you (through your documents) or loved ones. This could cause unnecessary and unexpected costs, delays, and loss of privacy.
- If any of these have occurred to you or, if married, to your spouse: marriage, death, birth, divorce, second marriage. These occurrences call for a review of your estate plan. Not reviewing your will and/or trust after any of these events could lead to unintended beneficiaries or fiduciaries.
- Speaking of fiduciaries…review the people you designate as fiduciaries in your documents, such as executor of your will, trustee of your trust, guardian of your children, agent in your powers of attorney, to name a few. Are they still alive? Are they still capable of serving? Do you still want them to serve?
- Review your beneficiaries. Review who you listed to inherit from you. Are they still alive? Do you still want to bequeath to them, or add additional beneficiaries? You should definitely review life insurance and retirement plans and other assets that have beneficiary designations, since the person you name on such a designation will inherit regardless of what your estate plan states.
- Your current plan is more than a decade old. There have been many tax and other changes that could affect older plans, but a major change with my practice is that my clients now plan for their “digital assets.” What happens to your pictures on Shutterfly, or your Facebook and LinkedIn accounts? What happens to money in your etsy or ebay store’s PayPal account? Do you want your spouse to have access to your Facebook account at your death? Or your emails? These “assets” should be reviewed, and you should consider what you want to happen to them at your death.
- Trust funding. There have been so many people who have created a trust plan but did not fund the trust, which meant at death the trust was useless. You must fund a trust, which means you put assets into the trust—typically by re-titling or deeding assets from you personally, to you as trustee of your trust. You can fund while living, or set it up so that this funding occurs at your death.
- Beneficiary becomes disabled. If a beneficiary has become disabled, or you wish to provide for a beneficiary who is disabled, then it is paramount that you discuss special needs planning, such as a special needs trust, with your attorney. Leaving assets directly to a disabled beneficiary could jeopardize certain benefits they might receive, such as Medicaid.
If you would like to discuss your estate plan, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I received several inquiries after my recent post on Letters of Intent, or instructions for guardians or caretakers of your children or pets. I have specific forms I have developed for children, pets, and children with special needs. If you would like pricing for those, email me at email@example.com, or message me through my law office’s Facebook page.
Letters of Intent can be created by you (versus an attorney), and many parents have done just that. These can be in-depth, broad, more limited–it’s up to you. To guide you, here are links to three examples, all from moms who were dying of cancer:
- A simple, specific, instructional Letter of Intent, “Mummy Manual”: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-346306/The-mummy-manual.html
- An in-depth, broad, far-reaching Letter of Intent with guidance: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/10084492/Dying-mother-leaves-20-point-plan-for-happiness-for-her-family.html
- Letters written to child to be given at certain life moments, a series of Letters of Intent: http://metro.co.uk/2015/07/23/mum-terminally-ill-with-cancer-writes-letters-to-her-four-year-old-to-last-a-lifetime-5308613/
What will be most helpful to your guardian? What information will help your child the most? The links to the different letters could be used to guide you in adapting such letters to specific situations, such as pets.
Send any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have started the process of planning for the future of your loved ones if something should happen to you, then congratulations, you have taken responsible steps that many people—estate planning attorneys included—have avoided taking. You are probably thinking most about who would care for your children, even pets, if you can’t. So, you decide on a guardian, or caregiver for your pets, and hopefully two successors. You name them in your will. Don’t stop there.
Do your guardian or caregiver, and especially your children or pets, the favor of easing their transition to this new life without you by completing a “letter of intent,” or caregiver guide. A “letter of intent” gives information and details to your guardian or caregiver about everything from daily routines to hopes for the future. Everything from food likes and dislikes, doctor names and extracurricular activities, to hopes for education, thoughts on values and religion.
“Letters of intent” for pets (sometimes called Caregiver Guides) detail health history, food preferences, and allergies. Explain how the pet lived (crated at night or not? Walked on a leash or more accustomed to fenced-in yard?), thoughts on parameters with euthanasia, and other aspects of the pet’s life.
The most important subject for a “letter of intent,” however, might be a child with special needs. For many children with special needs, routine and familiarity are critical. Children on the autism spectrum can struggle with the most minor change (a subjective term) in their day or routine. Replicating a child’s routine as much as possible might reduce stress for a child with disabilities in adjusting to a different house, different people, different sounds and surroundings. A “letter of intent” would give a guardian a greater ability to provide the things necessary to help the child cope, particularly by continuing the child’s daily routine.
If you have any questions about preparing your own letter of intent for the care of your loved ones, email me at email@example.com.