Dangers of a Do-It-Yourself POA

Completing a Power of Attorney document is one of the most impactful things you can do to lessen the burden of caregiving on your family and loved ones. Power of Attorney documents are not crafted as “one size fits all” but instead are customized to reflect the varying needs of each individual family situation. 

Investing in an attorney to help you draft your POA document can help you better understand the terms of the document and minimize mistakes. Answering one question incorrectly on your POA document can lead to many problems in the future — problems that can be costly and emotionally taxing for you and your loved ones.

There are 3 dangers of doing a POA on your own that we’d like to briefly look at:

1. Too Many Powers – One problem with creating a POA document yourself is the possibility of giving your power of attorney too much power. While the form looks relatively simply, it is easy to answer a question incorrectly without a lawyer’s expertise and guidance. You could give your POA agent too many powers and open the gateway to elder abuse. Whenever you see a newspaper article about an older person being taken advantage of, it’s often the result of abusing a power of attorney.

Powers of attorney can be easily abused because they are not monitored by the legal system. Templates are easily available online and anyone can serve as a witness or notary, even if they don’t have your best interests in mind. Paying for the legal expertise is worth the security that comes from knowing your POA agent has the correct powers. Attorneys are ethically sworn to serve the best interests of their clients and can help you avoid elder abuse by assisting you in selecting a trustworthy power of attorney agent. Nominating a power of attorney (when done correctly) should give you peace of mind, not make you nervous.

2. Too Few Powers – Sometimes a person has a POA agent who is 100% trustworthy, but their powers listed in the document are so limited that they are unable to do the things that would be best. We have seen a number of families who were working on long-term care planning, hoping to seek benefits to pay for nursing home care. However, their power of attorney did not include certain powers that would have been helpful in that situation. For instance, unless we specifically state them, a power of attorney does not include the power to create a trust (which is a valuable tool often used for effective planning), or the power to make gifts to family. Yet, creating trusts and making gifts are often important parts of protecting money from a nursing home towards the end of life.

3. Not The Form You Need – If a power of attorney document is created without a lawyer, there is no guarantee that all banks or institutions will accept it. There have been a couple of law changes in Illinois in the last few years regarding powers of attorney. If you find an online document, is it the correct and most up to date form? If not, the bank may refuse to honor it, and they are within their rights to do so if it is not in the proper format.

As with so many things related to estate planning, every family and every situation create unique circumstances that fill-in-the-blank forms cannot adequately address. It is incredibly valuable to the have the help of an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney to help guide you through the process while anticipating problems your unique situation may bring up. If you have questions about Powers of Attorney or any other estate planning/elder law issues, we urge you to give us a call at 217-726-9200. We’re more than happy to speak with you.

Top 10 Scariest Estate Planning and Elder Law Topics

 

Top 10 Scariest Estate Planning and Elder Law Topics

10. The Invisible Assets – A big part of asset protection is making sure you have updated beneficiary designations. This is often overlooked and can have truly hair-raising consequences. Read more here.
9. The Illinois Chainsaw Massacre: Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left of Them? – Dave says it a lot, “Bad estate planning breaks up good families.” Our firm sees it all the time, and it is devastating. The good news? There are steps you can take to Avoid an Estate Battle After You’re Gone.
8. The Bad Seed – Helpers who take advantage of the situation or just don’t do their job are one of the scariest threats to a plan. Read about 7 Types of Helpers You Need to Watch Out For here.
7. The Curse of the Old Will – Do you remember the last time your will was updated? Or even where it is located? If not, you could be in for some real nightmares. Read the 7 Risks of an Old Will here.
6. Farm on a Haunted Hill – Losing the family farm is a true horror story for many, but it doesn’t have to be.
5. The Loved Ones – Watching your loved ones spend every dime they’ve worked so hard for on the exorbitant costs of nursing care can you make you feel like you’re living a nightmare. But, there are ways to Avoid Nursing Home Poverty.
4. Misery – Estate planning is fraught with dangers that can trip you up. Read about 6 Estate Planning Pitfalls to Avoid here.
3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers – When a stroke or dementia alters the way you have to live, a good plan can make sure your wishes will still be carried out. Read about why Every Estate Plan Needs a Good Helper here.
2. The Maddest Story Ever Told – Trying to qualify for Medicaid on your own could drive you crazy. It is a complex and bureaucratic process that is very difficult to accurately carry out without expertise. Help from an experienced elder law attorney will save time, money, resources and stress – as well as increasing your odds of approval.
1. A Nightmare on Probate Street – For many people, probate makes them feel like they’re watching their favorite horror movie. Probate costs time, money and stress (like many other estate planning problems), but there are things that can be done to make it easier or to avoid it altogether. Read more here.
As always, please feel free to call our office at 217-726-9200 or email Tarina@EdwardsGroupLLC.com if you have questions, need assistance or are wondering what your best next step should be. The greatest threat to an effective estate plan is NOT DOING ANYTHING. Avoid the horror stories above by taking action. Our FREE monthly workshops are a great, no-pressure way to get started.

 

 

7 Questions to Ask Before the Age of 70

People are living longer than ever these days, and while that is a good thing, it definitely presents challenges. Regardless of you or your loved one’s stage in life, good planning requires that you ask good questions. And asking good questions can sometimes be uncomfortable, unpleasant or overwhelming. We have come up with 7 questions that need to be asked by the time someone turns 70. If you address these 7 things, it will make aging easier on you and your family.

A little discomfort now can make ALL the difference later. One of the keys to this exercise is not taking an emotional approach. We naturally think of ourselves as 15 years younger than we really are. That means when we turn 70, we actually still feel like we’re 55! That’s a big difference. One way to combat this is to look at the cold, hard facts about aging:

  • People reaching the age of 65 will live, on average, 19.2 more years. That’s 84, if you don’t want to do the math.
  • 36% of people aged 65+ reported some sort of disability in 2012. (That’s 1 out of every 3 people.) Limitations in daily living activities because of chronic conditions will only increase with age.
  • Statistics vary, but it is generally thought that 70-80% of people who reach 65 will need some sort of care during the rest of their life!
  • 1 in 3 older women are widows. And according to the Wall Street Journal, 86% of widows live in poverty. Almost half of women 75+ live alone.
  • And according to David Laibson, who specializes in behavioral finance at Harvard University, about half the 80-year-old population is not in a position to make important financial decisions due to rates of dementia and other kinds of cognitive impairment. This means it’s important to make these decisions sooner rather than later.

So, what are the questions we want you to think about and ask yourself?

  1. Who’s in charge here? Every plan for aging needs a good helper. (Think Power of Attorney, executor or trustee.)
  2. Do you have the correct powers in place? If you have a Power of Attorney, does it have the correct provisions to allow the most flexible planning options as you age?
  3. Is your estate plan up to date? Lives constantly change, which means your estate plan needs to be tweaked to match the circumstances.
  4. What care will be needed… and when? This is a great question, without a concrete answer, but it’s important to be realistic and anticipate the possibilities.
  5. Have you explored ALL the asset protection options? Even before care is needed, there are some important steps that can be taken to help pay for care when it is eventually needed.
  6. Are you maximizing available benefits now? If care is needed now, are you sure that you are accessing all available help, like VA and Medicaid?
  7. The best way to answer Question #6 is by answering Question #7: Have you gotten the advice of an experienced elder law attorney? Experienced elder law attorneys deal with these issues everyday, which means they are always up on the latest laws, benefits and local care options.

One final encouragement from Dave on this topic, “It is far easier to have a plan pre-70 and tweak it here and there as the situation changes, rather than having to make all the big decisions during a crisis or once decision-making impairment has begun.” Addressing all 7 of these questions is something that all of our plans do. If answering these questions feels overwhelming, don’t stress! We guide our clients through the decision-making process everyday. And when the time comes to start implementing the plan, we work as a support for your family, making sure that things go as smoothly as possible. Give us a call at 217-726-9200 if you have questions, or check out one of our upcoming workshops.

Don’t Get Stuck With a Stupid Tax

Have you ever heard the phrase, “stupid tax”? I hate paying a stupid tax, because it’s always something that could have been avoided.

A few years ago my wife and I went with my parents to see an Illini basketball game in Champaign. After eating at the Ribeye on Neil Street (good food!), I ran through the snow to get the car. As I approached the car I had a sinking feeling.

I had forgotten the tickets. 

Thankfully, the box office was able to reissue forgotten season tickets, but I had to pay a stupid tax of $5 for every ticket being replaced!

We all get stuck paying a stupid tax every now and then. A few dollars isn’t bad as far as a stupid tax is concerned, but when it comes to estate planning, mistakes can be very costly. One of my primary goals is to help you and your family avoid paying any stupid taxes by thoroughly thinking through things and planning ahead.

Recently, a younger high profile celebrity died without thinking through what would happen to his estate if he suddenly passed away. His estate ended up paying a $12 million stupid tax. While most people won’t make that big of a mistake when it comes to planning, we see people all the time who did not properly plan, and therefore, end up owing a stupid tax. And the most frustrating part? It could have been avoided.

If you’re not sure whether your estate will be slapped with a stupid tax, we encourage you to give us a call at 217-726-9200 or attend an upcoming workshop on estate planning. Wills & Trusts: How to Get Started is a great way to learn more about effective planning.

david edwards estate planning elder law

Stop Thief! 10 Things That Can Steal From Your Estate

If you’ve ever been robbed like I have, you know that awful feeling of violation and loss of control. More than the material things that are stolen, the loss of peace of mind and sense of security can have lasting effects.

When I had just started practicing law, I came home one night and saw muddy footprints on the carpet. I thought, “When did I track in mud?” Then it hit me — someone had broken a window and robbed my apartment! They didn’t get much; I didn’t have much for them to take. When it comes to your estate, there is a lot at risk.

As estate planning attorneys, we can’t protect your home, but we will work to protect your wealth and your legacy — protect it from thieves who could steal it.

What Is Robbery?

Robbery is when something of value is taken. When talking about estate planning, you can be robbed of money, but also so much more. You can be robbed of peace of mind, relationships, or even memories. There is a lot at stake if you don’t plan ahead.

Ten Thieves That Can Rob Your Estate

When creating a plan, it’s important to keep in mind these ten things that can do real damage to your plan:

  1. The IRS — Will your heirs pay unnecessary taxes? Well qualified estate planning attorneys should make sure your assets are set up to avoid issues like double taxation.
  2. Lack of organization — If you don’t have a plan for your wealth, you can’t control what happens to it.
  3. A spouse’s remarriage — If your spouse marries again, what will happen to your children’s inheritance? If your spouse has more children, will your wealth be divided among them as well?
  4. Your kids not being ready for wealth — If you were to die tomorrow, would your children be able to manage their newfound wealth? A thorough plan includes how much your kids get and when.
  5. Your kid’s divorce later in life — Estate planning attorneys make sure your wealth goes where you want it to go, regardless of the marital status of your children.
  6. A lack of training and communication with your family about your plan — I knew of a woman in her 70’s who lived by herself. Her husband had passed away a few years earlier. She had a daughter and two sons. One day she fell, broke her hip and had a mild stroke. She could no longer care for herself. The daughter who lived in town began to help her out. This daughter was never very good with money, but the family thought it made sense to grant her the Power of Attorney because the other kids lived out of town. As the daughter continued to care for her mom, many items from the house disappeared. Her brothers thought she was taking the stuff, but she adamantly denied it. Unfortunately, after the mother’s death, the siblings never spoke again.
  7. A lack of professional guidance you can trust — A very blessed man had been married 30 years to the love of his life. She was never considered a “stepmother” but a truly loving mom to his children. He completed a “do-it-yourself” estate plan. When he passed away, the family found his plan vague, confusing and lacking detail. His wife remembered him saying, “You’ll never want for anything.” His kids remembered hearing, “You will be treated fairly.” As the plan unfolded, both his wife and his kids thought the other side was being greedy and not honoring his wishes. On the brink of court, after two years and lot of legal fees, they compromised and settled the dispute. Sadly, the stepmom and the step kids never spoke again.
  8. Future lawsuits or liability — If you own a business, is your liability insulated from the business’ liability? What happens if your beneficiaries are ever sued? Estate planning attorneys can provide answers and solutions for these types of issues.
  9. Nursing home costs — The skyrocketing costs of aging in America necessitate your plan include provisions for long-term care for you and/or your spouse.
  10. Outdated legal documents — Effective estate planning attorneys help you keep your plan current so it can do what you intend for it to when the time comes.

What Would You Do If You Knew a Thief Was Coming?

When my old apartment was robbed, I didn’t expect it. It just came out of the blue. I have a friend who was in a different situation a while back. She lived in a great neighborhood. It was always very safe and quiet. But there was a time when houses started getting burglarized. Week after week, it was someone else. Would her house be next? She couldn’t know for sure, but she took steps to protect herself by installing a security system.

Nobody likes to think about it, but Benjamin Franklin told us only death and taxes are certain in this life. You know the time will come eventually. What estate planning “security system” do you have in place? If something isn’t right with your plan, would you even know it? Effective estate planning attorneys create and review existing plans to protect all you’ve worked so hard for.

give your house to your kids

(Video) Beware of What Happens When You Give Your House to Your Kids

When faced with the shocking costs of long-term care or a nursing home, many people have to scramble to figure out a way to pay the enormous fees. Realistically, the $6000+ a month it costs for a nursing home in Central Illinois is a big financial burden for most people. Many are left with Medicaid as the only possible way to get the care they need as they age. In fact, it is estimated that 70% of nursing home residents rely on Medicaid to pay their nursing home bill.

Without planning, the most common way to qualify for Medicaid is to “spend down” most of your assets.

So, in order to try and protect assets (like the family home), some people consider transferring their house or other assets to their kids. This can work for Medicaid, if done at least 5 years ahead of when care is needed, but there are risks involved.

The unintended consequences from this approach can create big problems. Learn more about the risks by downloading our guide, “12 Reasons Not to Give Your Property or Your Money to Your Kids Right Now,” or watch the following video where Attorney David Edwards explains a little more about the risks involved in giving money or property away to your children.

Cinderella and estate planning

7 Important Things Cinderella’s Father Could Have Done Better

The secret to avoiding disaster in the Magic Kingdom — plan ahead.

So much of parenting is about planning and anticipating problems BEFORE they happen. And trips to Disney World are no exception. We know from experience that our kids get worn out if they days are too long. So, now we purposely build in days to quit early and have some down time back at the pool. On our most recent trip, I was reminded once again of how disastrous bad estate plans can be when minors are involved. Cinderella’s father made her life even more difficult by not anticipating what would happen if he died. Keep reading to find out what he could have done differently.

7 Important Things Cinderella’s Father Could Have Done Better

You’re probably familiar with the age-old story — Cinderella’s mother dies when she’s a young child, leaving just her and her father. Sadly, while Cinderella is still a minor, her father dies after remarrying a woman with two children of her own. His estate is left to his widow. (A regular occurrence in the real world.) And we all know what happens next: the wicked stepmother takes control of the estate of the benefit of herself and her own daughters. Treated as a servant in her own home, Cinderella is reduced to befriending rodents and birds.

Unfortunately, attorneys see these sorts of real life disasters everyday. The parents of modern day Cinderella’s aren’t bad people. They just failed to properly plan. They certainly didn’t wish for bad things to happen to their children. But that’s what happens when you don’t plan for things that are common to the human experience. (Like death.)

Here are 7 estate planning actions Cinderella’s father could have taken to better protect her once his wife died:

  1. Name guardians who share his values. See our Child Raising Priorities Checklist to help you decide what’s most important to you.
  2. Leave instructions for the guardian about how he wants her raised. This could include schooling preferences, where he wants her to live, religious upbringing, etc.
  3. Don’t think of planning as “all or nothing.” All of the father’s assets didn’t have to go only to the second wife OR only to his child. He should have considered dividing the assets between the spouse and Cinderella.
  4. Name an “outside” helper. Even in the best of circumstances, putting a stepparent in control of the stepchild’s money (or vice versa) can lead to frustration or awkwardness. A professional trustee (such as a bank, CPA or attorney) could have better balanced the interests of both Cinderella and her stepmother.
  5. Prioritize key needs for Cinderella such as future educations costs, wedding expenses, a down payment for a home, etc. Setting aside priority funds in a trust will make sure they are not spent on other things.
  6. Pass on a non-financial legacy. Cinderella’s father could have done a better job in transmitting his values, traditions, stories, faith and experiences, and this should have been especially important because Cinderella was so young when her mother died. By passing on a non-financial legacy, he could have insured that her mother’s things — photos, jewelry and other important “belongings” or memories were passed to Cinderella and not the stepmother. Read about 10 Non-financial Planning Issues You Should Consider here.

The type of planning that best protects minors when the unthinkable happens requires attorneys to act as counselors for the client. This also often involves collaboration with other professional advisors. By working as a team, these professionals who deal with real life Cinderella stories everyday can develop solutions for issues such as a creditor protection, remarriage protection, guardianship and special needs.

An estate plan is not really about YOUR DEATH. It’s about your CHILDREN’S LIFE if you’re not there to protect them anymore. You do everything you can to protect them right now — bike helmets, the best car seats, safe cars, healthy food, etc. but what if the unthinkable happens? Will all your protection go away if you go away? Preparation now avoids extra heartbreak and tragedy later. Read a real life story about lack of planning and the death of a young mother here.

Oftentimes, this is the single hardest activity a parent will engage in. We give guidance in person when clients go through this process with us. As always, feel free to give us a call at 217-726-9200 if you have any questions!

death parent

Case Study: When a Young Mother Suddenly Dies

The Brock’s were just an average young family in the 1980’s. The father, Robert, had been to Vietnam and back a decade earlier. The mother, Margaret, stayed at home with their two young boys, James and Steven. The family lived in a modest ranch house in middle America. But one day their normal life unexpectedly came to an end when the complications of a routine surgery left Margaret in a coma. Her sons were only 8 and 6 at the time.

The Death of a Loved One is Never Normal

Without health insurance or life insurance, Robert faced a very difficult situation as his wife lay in a coma. Margaret didn’t have any written health directives. Only Robert knew that Margaret didn’t want to be kept alive through artificial measures. After less than a week, Robert made the agonizing decision to remove Margaret from life support. Margaret’s parents and sister disagreed with how quickly he made the decision, which made a tragic situation even worse.

Margaret’s parents continued to be a part of their grandsons’ lives. They tried to make peace with her husband’s decision. But Margaret’s sister never forgave Robert. Margaret’s sister also lumped James and Steven in with her anger towards Robert. Instead of being a link to their missing mother and helpful part of the grieving process, she severed the relationship. The boys had not only lost a mother. They had now lost an aunt, an uncle and their cousins as well. Potentially powerful relationships in the healing process were gone.

Having already made the most difficult decision of his life, Robert Brock continued to face the harsh reality of life after his wife’s death. The bills from his wife’s surgery, hospital stay, and death piled up. However, Robert couldn’t sell the house to relieve some of that burden. Without a will, part of the house now belonged to the two boys and could not be sold until the boys were of legal age. Robert was forced to take on extra accounting work at night for a local small business. The boys would go with him after school and be expected to occupy themselves while their father worked an extra 5 nights a week.

A Cautionary Tale: What They Wish Could Be Different

Following the example set by his father, the youngest son, James, never dwelt on what happened or what could have been. He simply continued on with life. Now an adult himself, sometimes James wishes his father had handled things differently. For example, his father never told the boys the exact date of their mother’s death. James is still unsure of the date two decades later. For the most part, though, Robert and his boys chose not to let this tragic event define them in a negative way.

There are also times when James misses having motherly advice, but what he misses the most are the stories that define a lifetime. The story of his birth, stories from childhood, and stories from his mother’s life — all of those died with his mother (and when his aunt walked out of their life). Other than a few photographs, he has nothing left of her. His father’s way of dealing with the overwhelming sadness of the situation was to get rid of everything and sweep it under the rug. While Robert may have thought this was best for him and his boys, it left a big hole in their life.

What Good Is a Plan During a Tragedy?

An estate plan cannot erase the grief for the family left behind when a loved one dies, but it can ease the transition and facilitate healing. Here are some tools that families can use to help make things easier during the devastating and sudden loss of a loved one:

  1. Legal documents clearly stating end of life issues can ease the burden on a spouse who is faced with an agonizing decision like the one above. These documents also could have given other family members peace of mind knowing that their sister/daughter’s wishes were being carried out. In the end, this could have preserved important family relationships for those left behind in the distressing wake of loss.
  2. Preserving memories or special items that lay a foundation for adulthood can mean a lot to the children left behind, but preserving the stories behind those items through letters or audio recordings would have been priceless.
  3. Life insurance could have eased the daily financial stress of losing a spouse and raising children alone.

The death of a spouse or parent is never easy, but there are many things that can make sudden and devastating events, like the one above, a little easier for those left to live life without a very special loved one.

estate planning act of love

7 Reasons Estate Planning Is an Act of Love

When you think of Valentine’s Day, you probably don’t think about estate planning, but we do! We see the depth of our clients’ love for their families everyday as they put an effective plan together — a plan from which they may never see the benefits. A plan that will give their loved ones peace at a time of great loss and grief.

Here are seven reasons why our staff sees estate planning as a great act of love:

  1. It provides protection at every stage of the game. You’ve worked to protect your children throughout their life — when they learned to walk, when they learned to drive, even after they moved out. Creating an effective estate plan is another way we can protect our kids.
  2. It makes sure nothing important gets lost in the shuffle. You may have IRAs, multiple insurance policies or other assets that children know nothing about. It is incredibly stressful, after the loss of a loved one, to run around, playing detective, trying to gather necessary information about these things.
  3. It’s likely the largest financial gift you’ll ever make. You want to get it right. Even if you don’t think you have much of an “estate,” if you own a house, then you have an estate to pass on. Bad estate plans (or no plan) make big messes for those left behind to deal with.
  4. Without planning, your estate could cause great hardship. In Illinois, if you die without a will, your estate will be split 50-50 between your spouse and kids. This means that your wife could be prevented from selling the house because the children won’t agree to it.
  5. You can still watch out for that wayward child. It’s really difficult when our children don’t make the choices we’d like them to make for themselves. It causes everyone a lot of heartache. Creating a trust for a child like this can bring a deep sense of peace.
  6. Long-term Care Planning takes the burden off your family. The last decade of life is one of the most stressful times in the human lifespan. There is nothing harder for a child or family member than not being able to provide care for a loved one when the time comes.
  7. It takes the guesswork away. It is very difficult to be grieving the loss of a loved one (or the catastrophic illness of a loved one) all the while not knowing if you are making the decisions they would want made. Good planning prevents guilt and emotional conflict between siblings or family members.

If you’ve been putting off planning because of the hassle or the cost, we encourage you to take a step toward protecting your loved ones today. You’ve already taken at least one step by learning more in this post. Next, we encourage you to attend one of our free educational workshopsWills & Trusts: How to Get Started or How to Protect Your House and Life Savings from the Nursing Home. See the upcoming dates here.

We also understand that time is of the essence if you have a loved one who is facing a nursing home or already in a nursing home. In that case, we urge you to call us right away at 217-726-9200 and our Benefits Coordinator, Melissa Coulter, will be more than happy to speak with you about your urgent situation.

david edwards estate plan

Secrets: 5 Things Your Adult Children Need to Know About Your Estate Plan

Parenting often involves keeping secrets, especially when the kids are little — remember all the secrecy surrounding Christmas or birthdays?

Back when my daughter was 4 years old my wife and I kept a big secret from her. For her 5th birthday we surprised her with a trip to Disney World in conjunction with an estate planning conference! (She was excited about the first, while I was pretty excited about the second.) It was hard to keep the secret at times, but it sure was a fun surprise when we pulled it off.

Estate Plan Secrets

Secrets can be fun. But where estate planning is concerned, they most definitely are not. Sometimes it’s hard to know what our kids may or may not know about our plan. Walt Disney’s daughter was once asked by kids at her school what it was like to be his daughter: She came home that night indignant, telling her dad, “You never told me you were Walt Disney!” Sometimes things that seem obvious to us might not be so obvious to our kids.

5 Things Your Kids Need to Know About Your Estate Plan

What do your kids know or not know about your estate plan? Here’s a quick checklist to consider:

  1. Burial — Do your kids know whether you want to be cremated or buried? If you want to be buried, where do you want to be buried? Have you already purchased a cemetery lot?
  2. Who to Call — Do your kids know who your attorney is or how to get a hold of him/her? Can he help tie up loose ends or was he only used to fill out forms and make them official during planning?
  3. Assets — Do your kids and/or family know what your assets are? If you suddenly have a stroke or heart attack can they easily find that information?
  4. End of Life — Are they clear about your wishes for ending treatment and “pulling the plug?” Do they know how you feel about organ donation?
  5. Your Plan — Do they know where to find your will, trust and/or powers of attorney? (And if they’re in your safe deposit box or home lock box, can they get in? Do they have the key or the combination?) Will your kids be surprised by your plan? (How you divided assets or whether you gave to charity…) Unfulfilled expectations can mean conflict between your kids or lifelong heartache for a child who misreads a plan as being a symbol of how the parent felt about them.

5 Tips to Make Sure There are No Secrets About Your Estate Plan

  1. Talk. Have conversations with your kids about aging, death and what will happen. There are good conversation starter resources at EngageWithGrace and The Conversation Project. You can also read our post on the subject HERE. The holidays, when families gather together, are a good time to get these conversations started.
  2. Find an experienced attorney. Work with an attorney who keeps your plan up to date through a membership program or a maintenance plan. That way, even if you don’t want to share all of your financial information with your kids now, the attorney will have it to provide them with later. Read about our program HERE.
  3. Don’t assume. Recognizing if your kids will know what to do or how to do it once you are gone can be really hard. Tell them what you expect now. Things like which advisor to rely on or “take care of your little sister” can go a long way.
  4. No surprises. Give your kids the overview of your plan, so they know what to expect. News such as, “I’m going to leave your brother the farm,” is better with an explanation from you now. Your attorney can help with this, providing as much or as little detail as you want.
  5. Don’t just fill out a form. Include purpose statements in your will or trust. Tell why you did what you did, or explain that “it is my intent” that the plan work a certain way.

Estate planning works much more smoothly when there are no secrets or surprises. Save your family a lot of money and heartache by doing a little work now. Read about how to avoid an estate battle after you’re gone HERE.