In the United States, over half the population is without an estate plan, despite the vast majority of those people acknowledging the need to have one in place. What could possibly account for this apparent disparity? When you ask people who do not have an estate plan for an explanation, the most common answer is some variation of “I don’t know where to start.” Between the unfamiliar legal jargon, concepts, and tools and the deeply personal and sensitive nature of estate planning, it should really come as no surprise that many people find the thought of creating an initial estate plan to be intimidating. If you are one of those people, we hope that the following estate planning tips for the beginner make you feel more at ease with the idea of getting started on your plan.
- Choose your attorney. Given the importance of your estate plan, going the “Do-It-Yourself” route should not be an option. While it is true that you can find a wide range of estate planning “fill-in-the-blanks” forms on the internet, the odds are high that the form you use will have significant errors and/or omissions that could ultimately cost your loved ones a significant amount of time and money. Instead of risking the success of your plan by going the “Do-It-Yourself” route, choose an experienced estate planning attorney to work with throughout the process of creating your estate plan.
- Define your goals. Take some time to consider what you need to accomplish and what you want to include in your estate plan. People typically focus on the distribution of their estate assets when they think about estate planning. While this is certainly one aspect of an estate plan, a comprehensive estate plan can accomplish much more than that. For example, if you don’t want your loved ones to have to deal with a lengthy probate of your estate, you could include probate avoidance as an estate planning goal. If you have minor children, protecting their inheritance until they reach the age of majority should be an important part of your plan.
- Assess your assets and liabilities. You undoubtedly have a fairly good idea of what assets you own; however, for the purpose of creating an estate plan you should make a detailed list, including current value, location, and identifying information (account number, registration number, lot number etc.) Make the same list for your liabilities that you made for your assets.
- Identify your beneficiaries. Most of your beneficiaries will be obvious, such as your children, but there may be a few less obvious beneficiaries on the list. Your pet, for example, or a favorite charity might be included once you give it some thought.
- Choose your fiduciaries with care. One of the most common – and most damaging – mistakes people make when creating an estate plan is failing to take the time necessary to choose the right person for fiduciary roles within the plan. If you create a trust, for example, do not simply appoint a spouse or friend as the Trustee because you “trust” them. The role of a Trustee is a complex job that requires a degree of financial and legal knowledge and experience to perform well. Appointing the right person will contribute to the success of your overall estate plan. Appointing the wrong person could contribute to the failure of your plan.
- Remember to review and revise your plan. Among the most common mistakes people make when it comes to estate planning is failing to review and revise the plan they create. An out of date estate plan can be every bit as problematic as the complete absence of a plan. To ensure that your plan covers all your current needs, make sure to review the plan every few years as well as when a life event, such as divorce, calls for a revision.
Contact New York Estate Planning Attorneys
Please feel free to download our FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have additional questions or concerns regarding the estate planning, or you think you are ready to finally get started on your estate plan, contact the New York estate planning attorneys at the Law Offices of Kobrick & Moccia by calling 800-295-1917 to schedule your appointment.