If you completed your estate plan in 2017, congratulations! You are ahead of the 55 percent of Americans who do not have a will or other estate plan.
But estate plans are not a love-it-and-leave-it proposition. They require periodic review and maintenance as your circumstances change. You should have a scheduled time near the beginning or end of the year to complete this review. Even if you only take 15 minutes to confirm beneficiaries and account for current real estate, that is time well-spent to assure your plans still reflect your wishes.
A simple checklist is a good place to start. These items do not take long to consider and they can make a big difference in how your estate is managed.
Where is your will or trust document?
Know the location of the original will. If it is in a safety deposit box, give an extra key to your executor. Trust documents should be in a secure place. But confirm that location so that you are not hiding them from yourself.
Keep all the documents together. Wills, powers of attorney, and advance health directives need to be in one place with copies provided to your appointed agents.
Are beneficiaries, executors, guardians, and trustees correct?
Changes in family circumstances may require adjustments in beneficiaries and appointments. You may designate your oldest child as executor only to have them move across the country. A relative or friend who lives closer and understands your situation may be a better choice. Similar developments may make other individuals better candidates for guardians and trustees.
The same is true for beneficiaries. You may find a child who was once self-sufficient is now unable to work due to a disability. A new child or grandchild also affects beneficiaries. Adjusting your non-probate assets to reflect these needs may create a more desirable estate plan.
Death also changes the nature of these appointments. If your spouse passed away and is still designated as the agent in your Power of Attorney, you may want to consider redrafting that document with a new agent.
What has changed?
Assess life changes over the last year. If you quit your job to run a small business, your estate plan is no longer relevant. While beneficiaries, executors, and agents may remain the same, you now have to plan for business succession. Also, a Power of Attorney may need to be expanded to include business functions.
The same is true if you divorce, remarry or welcome an additional child. Major events should warrant an immediate review of your estate plan although that may not have occurred to you at the time. So, accomplish this now. You do not want to leave a former spouse as a life insurance beneficiary when your current spouse could use those immediate funds upon your death.
Changes in income and major property acquisitions will also affect estate plans. Becoming a homeowner, purchasing business property or receiving a large inheritance can affect the value of your estate. Depending on the type of income and property growth, you may need to consider a trust or lifetime gifts.
Are all affected people notified?
Estate plans do not help if they remain secret. Even if you let people know that you completed an estate plan, you may have overlooked a few details.
For example, you may keep your original documents in a safety deposit box and allow your executor access. But if only your executor knows of this fact, it could cause hysteria if that individual is not immediately available to answer questions. Identify your executor but also provide location information for the documents whether that is a safety deposit box or a locked file drawer.
Share information about beneficiaries on life insurance policies and 401Ks, too. Beneficiaries will have an easier time taking possession of proceeds if you provide account and policy details.
Even if you believe you shared this information before, it does not hurt to share it again. While you could receive an eye-roll or two, at least you can rest assured that everyone is current on your estate plan.
If you find it is time to revise your estate plan, make an appointment with a dedicated and knowledgeable estate planning attorney. Contact Diane L. Gruber at Gruber & Associates, P.C. to schedule a consultation.
Most people do not need to avoid probate. They need the right tools to make it easier. The first step to that is drafting a will and informing loved ones of its location and contents.
Even then, the challenges are only beginning. In addition to managing the paperwork and legal formalities that follow a death, your loved ones are also facing their grief. This is an overwhelming time where even a simple telephone call to a life insurance company feels like a monumental task.
Efforts made now can make this easier for your friends and family in the future. Once you finish your will, complete these five tasks to assure a more efficient probate process for your loved ones.
Keep It All Together
Once you draft a will, keep the original in a safety deposit box, a copy with your attorney, and another copy with your executor, the person named in your will to manage your estate. Let other family members or close friends know you have a will and who has copies of it.
Wills do no favors if they are kept secret. If no one knows you have a will and/or cannot find it, then your loved ones will be forced to file an intestate probate in order to transfer your assets. An intestate probate is a probate without a will. It is more time-consuming and more expensive than a probate with a will. Moreover, this leaves your loved ones wondering what to do. A will expresses your wishes and directs your loved ones what you want to become of your assets after your death.
Keep other important documents near your will as well. These may include real estate papers, car titles, stock certificates, and life insurance policies. If all these documents are together in one place, life for your grieving executor just became easier.
Make Lists Now
One of the largest tasks in probate proceedings is the inventory. This is a list of all your assets and their values. The court uses it to determine the value of your estate and the distribution of your property.
Start keeping updated lists now to make this job easier for your grieving relatives. If you have a special collection of art, jewelry or other high-value items, keep track of these items in a spreadsheet or even a notebook. List values if you have them. Your executor may have to get some items appraised, but even just a list will make the inventory step easier for your executor.
If a loved one is a joint owner on a real estate deed or car title, tell them. This makes it easier for them to take possession of these items after you die and keeps the asset out of probate. The same is true for any life insurance policies. If beneficiaries know they are entitled to these funds, they may be able to collect them without the involvement of the court or your executor.
Likewise, if there are family members who are not receiving any of your property, be direct about this situation and who is affected. You may want to tell a trusted family member. Being clear about all your wishes, even those that work against family members, prevents problems after your death.
Organize Your Finances
Just as you own assets, you may also carry debt. Keep mortgage documents, credit card statements, and medical bills in an accessible place and maintain a current list. Then when you executor must send out notices to creditors, they do not have to engage in an exhaustive search to find them all.
Provide Attorney Contact Information
When you pass away and your family and friends grieve, your estate planning attorney can be a guiding voice of reason during a difficult time. It is much easier to complete a probate filing with the attorney who knows you and drafted your will then to start from scratch with a new attorney.
Your attorney’s name, address, telephone number, and email address should be in the margins of your will. Inform your family members who you hired to handle your estate planning. Even if your attorney moves from the area or retires, having that information can still help your loved ones find someone else to represent them in the probate proceeding.
Gruber & Associates, P.C. offers estate planning and probate guidance for Oregon residents. Not only can we design an estate plan that best reflects your wishes but we can make the probate process more efficient and effective for your family. Contact our office today to schedule an estate planning or probate consultation.
An advance directive is a complimentary service when you hire Gruber & Associates, P.C. in West Linn, OR for estate planning. Its scope is limited so it works best with other estate planning documents. While it definitely offers advantages and eases health care decision-making for your loved ones, an advance directive also has its limits. That emphasizes the need for a complete estate plan.
An advance directive indicates your health care preferences if you are unable to communicate them to your doctor. It appoints a health care representative who executes these decisions, including any preferences regarding life-sustaining medical treatment.
Apppoints an Advocate
While many people do not want to consider it, there is a possibility that you will suffer injury or illness substantial enough to leave you unable to communicate or make decisions. While healthcare providers use their best discretion, there is another possibility that their decisions will not match your preferences.
The healthcare representative acts as your voice when you cannot speak. Since most clients appoint someone in this capacity that is close to them, this individual understands your motivation and feels honor-bound to respect your wishes. Many clients choose a spouse, sibling or even a good friend to fulfill this role. If you have someone in your life you would prefer for this duty, it is a good idea to execute an advance directive.
Define Course of Health Care
Health care decisions may have religious inclinations, like Jehovah’s Witnesses and their avoidance of blood transfusions. Other times it is simply a preference for particular courses of treatment.
An advance directive allows specific instructions. You can designate specific doctors, health care facilities, and, if you are terminally ill, your choice for hospice care. There may be circumstances where you prefer to continue palliative treatment at home and avoid future hospital visits. If you have detailed preferences like this, you need an advance directive.
Limit Life-Sustaining Medical Procedures
The best-known feature of the advance directive is your decisions regarding life-sustaining medical procedures. Many clients execute one because they do not wish to be kept alive by machines. Others make different choices.
While an advance directive is sufficient for ensuring your wishes are granted, you may also sign Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment or POLST. This is an additional document provided by a doctor, clinic or hospital that remains in your file and removes any doubt of your decision. It is presented not only if you are terminally ill but sometimes before surgical procedures. Do not be surprised if one is presented to you if you are admitted to the hospital.
Advance directives define your course of health treatment but they have their limits. These are reassuring more than inconvenient, especially if you have a finished estate plan.
Indicate Burial Preferences
If you have any burial preferences, you should list them in your will. The advance directive is not an appropriate avenue for expressing this information.
Other options may include pre-planned funerals where you can confirm any religious or personal preferences. If you decide on something different, like donating your remains for study, that requires additional forms and an advance directive is not effective to assure that occurs. Many preferences require additional steps so discuss those first with your attorney before thinking one written note or document guarantees them.
Affect Insurance Coverage
There are concerns that insurance companies may require patients to sign an Advance Directive or face claim denial. This is not legal and any insurance company who insists on this should be reported to the Insurance Commission.
Signing an advance directive has no effect on insurance coverage or at least should have no effect on it. If you are not comfortable with executing an advance directive or feel pressured to do so, do not do it.
There are occasional concerns that the Oregon Death with Dignity Act may authorize health care representatives to choose euthanasia over further treatment, However, the law makes that impossible.
To be eligible for death with dignity, a patient must be a resident of Oregon who is 18 years of age or older. If they are diagnosed with a terminal illness where death is imminent within six months, they must also be capable of communicating their own healthcare decisions at the time they request death with dignity. An attending physician determines whether a patient meets these criteria–not a healthcare representative.
Since the patient must choose and self-administer the euthanasia drugs, physicians cannot be involved at all except to determine if the situation is appropriate for this option. Between the mental capacity requirement and the self-administration one, there is no way that a healthcare representative can authorize this course of action–or legally compel a physician to administer the drugs.
It can be difficult to consider these worst-case scenarios, but taking the time to do so offers reassurance and peace of mind. To start designing your estate plan and long-term care decisions, contact Gruber & Associates, P.C. today to schedule an appointment.