“Having a clearly well-defined estate plan, that spells out your exact wishes and needs upon death or incapacitation, will go a long way in helping your family if and when those situations occur”, explains Fred Haiman, founding partner of Haiman Hogue PLLC in Frisco Texas. —
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Haiman set out the top five tips for creating a great estate plan, where there is no room for confusion and only a smooth transition of assets to loved ones or other beneficiaries.
Haiman said, “The first tip is to not just rely on hearsay and ‘helpful advice’ that you get from loved ones and friends. Seek out the professional advice of an Elder Law attorney, a financial professional, a tax professional and an accountant to get you on the right track to an estate plan that reflects your specific needs perfectly. Discuss with them things like probate laws as you may find that some assets will not need to go through the process”.
The second tip he mentioned is that, any good estate plan (or what ideally should be a Family & Money Protection Plan) should be well written and clarify everything you want to accomplish when it comes to protecting your family and protecting and distributing your assets. For one, it lessens the potential for confusion among relatives on what should go to whom, it limits the chances of family fights and potential litigation between warring loved ones, and allows the family to get on with their grieving.
Haiman went on to say, “The documents should assert a financial power of attorney for the estate, a healthcare power of attorney if you become ill or injured and can no longer make decisions independently, clear instructions about what treatments you do and do not want if you are unable to speak for yourself, and a last will and testament that names beneficiaries for assets”.
Haiman said, “Another important factor to write out is to name a guardian for your children in case you die or become incapacitated, and they are still minors in the eyes of the law. If there are children involved, then you should definitely consider a trust that holds money for them and what it may be used for.”
“The third tip and an issue often overlooked is digital assets – or the images and documents stored on social media or ‘in the cloud’. Assign all your login names and passwords to a trusted person close to you, so that they can gain access and be able to shut down your online presence.”
Haiman went on to explain the fourth tip which is, “It’s essential to plan before you need it. Planning before you’re incapacitated or too sick to do this for yourself. This includes, among many other things, planning for the taxes due within nine months of death. So putting some money away for that tax day could help prevent assets from being sold off that you wanted to be allocated to loved ones. These matters should be addressed to an estate planning attorney for clarification.”
Planning can also be beneficial if long-term care needs have to be factored in as well. Speak to both a financial advisor and elder law attorney to discuss all these options and the little known issue of the Income in Respect of a Decedent, or IRD. If you die and have income – such as savings bond income and individual retirement account payouts - that hasn’t been taxed, your estate will have to pay these income taxes, he said.
The last tip Haiman shared was not only should a plan be kept up to date, but informing beneficiaries of the plan will stop potential conflicts after death. “Your plan should be reviewed and possibly updated every 3 to 5 years at the very most. The one constant in life is “Change,” so keeping up with life, income, family and legal changes is essential to having a fully effective plan, he said”.
Haiman concluded by saying, “These five tips will help guide a person on their way to creating an effective estate and family protection plan and ensuring a smooth transition of assets to their beneficiaries without fuss.”
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