Many clients finish planning their estate with me and then ask me what they should tell and to whom. As you might expect, the answer depends on where the client is in life and on the specific life circumstances for which we’ve planned.
For families with minor children, I urge parents to invest time in planning for their children, in case they’re not around. This usually includes putting together a list of first-responders – those empowered and authorized to care for your children, so they’re never in the hands of strangers or government agencies. Naturally, those first responders need to know their rights and what is expected of them. Our firm helps the process by sending out letters to each of the first responders, letting them know what their role is, what to do and where they can turn to for help.
If you have minor children you will likely need to nominate guardians to care for your children if you’re not around. While not strictly a legal issue, I encourage parents to discuss certain issues with the guardians they name. In fact, I’m so committed to this part of the planning that I’m developing a tool to help parents along with the process.
Most of the planning I do includes the creation of any number of trusts. These trusts provide for trustees, which can serve during a client’s life, a client’s disability or after their death. I think it is very important that for clients to help educate the trustees that will later manage their estates. The second step of our Three-Step Strategy is a commitment to lifelong education and maintenance for clients and their loved ones. As a way to help that along, we offer specific trustee training for those families with trust-based plans. Whether you do planning with me or with another lawyer, even a general discussion of what’s involved and what your named trustees will be asked to do is helpful.
While I believe that a trust-based plan offers families the most flexibility, control and protection, some elect to go with a simple will. A proper will has executors named and it’s my suggestion that you have a conversation with those people about what you would like to happen. Remember that your will is completely public and your executor will need to report to the court and any potential beneficiary (even if you’ve decided to exclude them) what is going on with your assets and the settlement of your estate. Make sure you are comfortable with that before you consider your estate plan “done.”
One of the things you should absolute discuss with your family is your disability plan. Here, I’m talking about your advance health care directive, your financial power of attorney, and, if applicable, the disability plan created by your trust document. Giving folks who need to act in a crisis some idea of what to do and what you want is a good idea.
I’m aware how difficult a conversation it can be to discuss what you would like done in cases of catastrophic illness, or when you are near death. However, if you don’t communicate your wishes now, you won’t be able to in that condition. What’s the cost of writing down your wishes if those wishes aren’t known?
The last suggestion I have is to link up with trusted legal counsel and build a lifetime relationship. We work on making sure that we have close connections with our clients before crisis lands in their lap. Our philosophy is that it’s vital to create a relationship as a trusted advisor in the process so that those that are left can turn to someone familiar with the family and who you’ve tapped as worthy of shepherding them through the next stages.
Posted by Victor J. Medina Medina, Martinez & Castroll, LLC