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Estate Planning Checklist: What to Consider Before You Start

According to a survey by the website Policygenius.com, the COVID-19 pandemic increased people’s awareness of the need for estate planning, with 40% of those surveyed expressing an increased urgency to create at least a will.A lawyer goes over an estate plan with their client

Still, the same survey found that fewer than 40% of Americans have even a basic will, let alone any further documents to prepare for the future, such as an advance healthcare directive or a living trust.

While you can never be too young to begin estate planning, you can be too late. Events in life can catch up with you. Perhaps you become incapacitated before you’ve even drafted a will or trust. When it comes to estate planning, the future is now.

If you’re in Grays Harbor County, Thurston County, or Pacific County in Washington, contact William E. Morgan, Attorney at Law, to begin the process of preparing for the future for you and your loved ones.

Attorney William E. Morgan has been assisting clients in their estate planning needs since 1997, and he stands ready to bring his knowledge and experience to your particular life situation.

What Is Estate Planning?

Most people probably equate estate planning with writing a will to distribute your assets and care for your loved ones once you’re gone. That, of course, is an essential piece — the foundation, so to speak.

While looking out for your loved ones is essential, so is looking out for yourself. What happens if you become incapacitated and can no longer voice your wishes or make decisions?

You should take at least two steps to prepare for the possibility of becoming incapacitated. One is to create a living trust to designate a trustee to take care of your finances and other affairs when you can’t. The trustee could be a spouse, family member, or trusted friend. Along with the living trust, you will probably also need to give the trustee power of attorney so that they can access and manage your bank accounts, savings, property, and other assets.

While you’re still healthy, the trustee has no authority over your affairs. The living trust can be set up to turn over authority to the trustee only when you’re either incapacitated or deceased.

The second step is to create a living will — or advance health care directive — stating your end-of-life decisions should you end up incapacitated and hospitalized with no way to express your own choices over treatment.

This is often equated with “do not resuscitate” orders but it can go much further than that in conveying your medical desires. A living will is often accompanied by a medical power of attorney naming someone to be your health care agent and relay your treatment preferences as stated in your living will.

Factors to Consider in Estate Planning

According to the survey cited above by Policygenius.com, the top three reasons people create an estate plan are:

  • To provide for their families financially (76.3%)

  • To make the process of inheritance as easy as possible (65.5%)

  • To have someone to take care of their kids (36.8%)

Overwhelmingly, people wish their families to be taken care of in as seamless an inheritance process as possible. That can be accomplished through a living trust complementing a basic will, but what considerations should you make when creating your estate plan? The steps involved in estate planning generally include:

  • Identify your goals: Take care of your family, protect assets, provide for your possible incapacity, leave a legacy for yourself, or all of the above?

  • Survey your assets: Make a concrete list of everything you own whether solely or jointly. Remember, jointly held assets or those with named beneficiaries can transfer outside of a will or trust.

  • Identify your loved ones you wish to care for: These can include spouses, children, close friends, and even pets. If you are going to leave minor children behind without a spouse to care for them, you need to name a guardian in your will (you cannot do so in a trust).

  • Identify your risks and prepare for them: What happens if you end up in a nursing home, and your wealth is subject to erosion or depletion? What about a child with special needs? There are trust instruments that can help you mitigate risks in both circumstances.

  • Decide on charitable contributions: Making charitable contributions can contribute to your legacy, and may also help shield your assets from Washington’s estate tax.

  • Prepare for Washington’s estate tax: While there is no inheritance tax in Washington, there is an estate tax on the decedent’s property and assets ranging from 10%-20%, but the exclusion amount is fairly high (currently $2,193,000).

  • Think about incapacitation: As discussed earlier, incapacitation can leave you unable to manage your estate, or if your situation involves hospitalization, the inability to express your medical care preferences.

Get the Experienced Legal Help You Need

Creating an estate plan is more than merely downloading a form or two online and filling in the blanks. There’s no way a preformatted document can cover every need, circumstance, eventuality, and personal preference an individual or family may have.

You need to huddle with an experienced estate planning attorney who can help you go through the checklist above and advise you of your best options.

For more than two decades, attorney William E. Morgan has helped residents throughout Washington achieve peace of mind by creating estate plans tailored to the needs of each individual and their loved ones.

Estate planning is too important to put off. If you’re in Grays Harbor County, Pacific County, or Thurston County, contact William E. Morgan, Attorney at Law, and get started today.