A good estate plan, just like any well-built house, is only effective if it has firm foundations, Trust & Estate Law Attorney Brendan L. Ward has asserted. —
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As Managing Partner of Cherry Tree Legal PLLC, in Lynn, MA, Ward has advised dozens of clients on the best approach to achieve a good estate plan that will smoothly transition assets to family members.
The starting point is to have a will or trust that sets out the main components of how your assets will be divested and to which beneficiaries. Wording is critical in the document and clearly conveys your wishes.
Ward said: “Any plan must have a power of attorney, a person assigned by you to act in your interests and to ensure the details of the estate are followed. Without a power of attorney, a court may be assigned to consider what happens to your assets.”
A power of attorney should be a person of trust, usually a family member, spouse or attorney. Their powers will include settling debts, distributing assets based on your wishes, and transacting any real estate.
A medical power of attorney should also be prepared so a trusted person can make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated and can no longer make decisions independently.
“If in doubt, an experienced Estate Planning Lawyer can guide you through all the issues to ensure your plan reflects your wishes,” he assured. “An estate plan also needs to be kept up to date to reflect any changes in your circumstances, deaths of named beneficiaries, and any changing relationships that occur.”
It is ideal to have a backup or contingent beneficiary if circumstances change. Additionally, ensure all insurance policies and retirement plans have named beneficiaries.
Ward said a letter of intent – one left to an executor about any assets or funeral arrangements – should be included in the plan. This may help if there is a court challenge on the distribution of assets.
Where children are under adult age, an estate plan should carefully set out their futures regarding who you wish to care for them legally and how they should be financially provided for out of the estate.
Ward concluded: “An estate plan contains many streams of information and documentation, but by ticking off this essential checklist, it will give you peace of mind. Always keep it up to date, speak to beneficiaries about your plans, and seek advice from a good attorney to ensure the plan you want is the plan you get.”
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