October is National Estate Planning Awareness Month. Historically, that kind of life planning exercise was associated with having a plan to care for family members and managing accumulated wealth in old age or following death. And that may be a reason less than 50% of adults in the U.S. have created a will or set up a trust set. End-of-life planning is association with dying, dead and being very wealthy.
While estate planning actually is a crucial life management and, yes, wealth preservation activity, it is crucial for EVERYONE — people of ALL ages and ALL income brackets. And you don’t need to be wealthy to have either of those documents. The only time that’s the right time for preparing an Estate Planning is the omnipresent NOW. Here’s a basic checklist gathered from various online sources for establishing an Estate Plan. (Note to readers: Every person, estate, and situation is unique; therefore, we highly suggest that everyone retain legal counsel in the preparation of estate planning documents.)
Creating an Estate Plan
According to New York Rules
Step 1 – Health Care Proxy
The execution of a Health Care Proxy involves the appointment of a health care agent, a person who will make medical decisions on behalf of a principal (individual executing the document). A health care agent will gain power only if the principal becomes incapacitated; that is, should they at any point be incapable of making important medical decisions for themselves. The principal should appoint an individual who is close to them, who knows their values, and, more importantly, who will take these values into consideration when making any health care choices for the principal.
Health Care Proxy – A Health Care Proxy, or Medical POA, contains instructions regarding the type of medical treatment and health care a principal will receive in the event of incapacitation. A health care agent is also appointed through execution of this document and they are in charge of communicating the principal’s health care wishes to medical professionals and health care providers. A Health Care Proxy can include limitations regarding the agent’s authority, otherwise the agent will have carte blanche in regard to the types of medical treatment the principal will receive. Signing requirements: The principal and two witnesses.
Step 2 – Durable (Financial)
Power of Attorney
A financial agent, or simply “agent” as per the Power of Attorney document mentioned below, is authorized to make financial decisions on behalf of the principal who executed the POA. Unlike a health care agent, a financial agent gains power as soon as the POA document is signed. Appointing a financial agent is an important step because it means the principal’s estate will be looked after even if they become mentally or physically incapacitated. A financial agent wields a great deal of power; therefore, the principal should appoint a trustworthy individual.
Durable (Financial) Power of Attorney – A legal document that appoints a financial agent to the principal’s estate. A Durable POA contains instructions on how the principal would like the agent to handle certain assets, accounts, investments, and other financial matters. The agent’s power is limited to finances, and they cannot make health care decisions for the principal. This document can be amended or revoked at any time by the principal.
Signing Requirements – Signatures of principal and agent must be acknowledged in the manner prescribed for the acknowledgment of a conveyance of real property; i.e., a justice of the supreme court, an official examiner of title, an official referee, or a notary public.
Step 3 – List Assets
To make sure that all assets have been covered in one or more estate planning documents, the principal should make a list of all property, assets, debts, and liabilities so that nothing gets left out. A Current Assets List can be a helpful organizational tool for this task.
Step 4 – Beneficiaries
“Beneficiary” is another word for an heir, a person (or entity) who will inherit all or a part of the principal’s estate after they die. Each beneficiary will be named in an estate planning document (covered in Step 5) with the corresponding assets/portion of the estate they will receive written beside their name. The principal may want to inform each beneficiary of their role in the estate plan.
Step 5 – Wills and Trusts
Each estate planning document mentioned below provides different benefits for the principal. Regardless of whether one or both of these tools are used, the principal may want to confer with an attorney to make sure that no part of the estate has been left out. Leaving property or assets out of an estate plan will cause complications when the time comes for the estate to be distributed after the principal’s death.
Last Will and Testament – A document executed by the principal (testator) with the intent of conveying clear instructions regarding the distribution of their estate after death. This document appoints an executor to handle the distribution of assets to the named beneficiaries, but this authority only comes into effect after the testator dies. A Will may cover provisions such as guardianship for their children, an agent for their children’s inherited assets, and taxes and debt management. Before any of the testator’s instructions can be implemented, the Will must be reviewed in probate court. Signing Requirements-The testator and two (2) witnesses.
For more information, visit: Eforms.com/estat-planning/ny/