This is the first week of May, which means that it is also Teacher Appreciation Week and we want to celebrate teachers everywhere and express our gratitude. Your commitment to laying the groundwork for tomorrow's leaders is truly inspiring. We believe that everyone deserves a successful future, including you. We want to ensure that you have all of the essential estate planning documents to secure that future. To get that preparation started, we have some frequently asked questions listed about estate planning and how important it is to have a plan in place.
Having a proper legal plan is important for everyone, regardless of wealth. The term 'estate' refers to all of your possessions, such as bank accounts, real estate, household items, and vehicles. Essentially, it encompasses everything that you own. Once you pass away, everything in your estate is bequeathed to someone else.
Estate planning or asset protection planning, involves creating a comprehensive set of instructions for your trusted decision-makers to follow. These instructions are laid out in a series of legal documents that specify what should happen to your assets, finances, and other possessions after you pass away. In addition to distributing your estate, these documents can allow you to nominate a guardian for your minor children, and provide guidance for situations where you are unable to make your own decisions or require end-of-life care. A large number of people choose to work with an estate attorney, like us, to help them with this inheritance planning process.
Planning for retirement is essential to ensure that you are financially prepared for your post-work years. Your retirement plan options will vary depending on the school district you're in, so you may need to conduct a little research to see the basic features of your plan. Defined-benefit plans guarantee a specific payment amount, while defined contribution plans are based on investment results. To understand your plan's rules and requirements, consider the following questions:
The type of account your retirement plan is in decides the regulations that go with it. Understanding the terms and conditions for your specific plan is vital.
To create an effective estate plan, you must identify the documents that make up your plan. Having a will or trust already completed means that you are off to a good start. If you haven't started preparing any of the necessary documents yet though, there is no need to panic as we are here to help you create your comprehensive plan for any situation. As a teacher, you know the importance of having a well-organized plan, and we view your inheritance planning documents as the lesson plans that guide and protect your loved ones.
One part of asset protection planning can be developing a revocable living trust (RLT), which is a trust that you establish during your lifetime, which can be altered at any time until you become incapacitated or pass away. You can either transfer ownership of your accounts and property from yourself as an individual to yourself as the trustee of the trust or name the trust as the beneficiary of your accounts and property (with some exceptions). Although many may believe it, there is no requirement as to how much money and property you need to experience the benefits of a trust. The next step may involve figuring out how to choose a trustee as an RLT allows you to designate a co-trustee or substitute trustee if you become unable to act as trustee for any reason. An RLT also enables you to enjoy your money and property during your lifetime and to designate what will happen to it upon your death, safeguarding it for your chosen beneficiaries.
An RLT is an excellent way to provide instructions to your loved ones about how to handle the money and property owned by the trust. You can specify in the trust document how the money and property should be used during your incapacity and after your death. As an educator, an RLT offers an opportunity to provide younger beneficiaries with teachable moments. You can structure the trust to allocate a specified percentage to your loved one upon reaching a particular age (e.g., one-third at age thirty, one-half at age forty, and the remainder at age fifty). Alternatively, you can use an incentive trust to allow the trustee to give your loved one money only after achieving specific objectives (e.g., successfully completing a post-secondary education, being employed by the same employer for more than a year, being sober for one year, etc.). You can also use your trust to encourage charitable giving by allowing your loved one to select a charity to give a stated amount of money to, providing funding for a mission trip, etc.
Another option for asset protection planning is a Last Will and Testament, which is another option for individuals to carry out their wishes. This document is also referred to as a will. In it, you can name an executor or personal representative who will collect all of your accounts and property, pay off your outstanding debts, and distribute your assets to those you have named. You can also name a guardian for any minor children. Unlike an RLT, this document is only effective after your death and cannot be used during your incapacity. However, it does provide a way to officially express your wishes.
If you choose to distribute your assets through a will, your family will have to go through the probate process, a court-supervised procedure that must be followed to distribute your accounts and property to your beneficiaries after your death. In contrast, with an RLT, probate can be avoided. It's important to note that if you don't have a will, state law will determine who gets your assets.
In the event that you have created an RLT as part of your estate plan, you may also need to create a pour-over will. This document is necessary only if an account or property has not been transferred to your trust during your lifetime or to your trust or another beneficiary upon your death through a beneficiary designation. Similar to a last will and testament, a pour-over will designates a personal representative or executor (usually the same person named as your substitute trustee) and a guardian for any minor children. However, the main difference is that a pour-over will directs that all accounts or property that are subject to probate be transferred to your RLT. While your loved ones will still need to go through probate, your money and property will ultimately end up in the trust and be managed and distributed according to its instructions.
A financial power of attorney allows you to designate a trusted person, referred to as your agent, to manage your financial transactions such as signing checks, opening bank accounts, signing a deed, and other tasks that you may assign. It's similar to assigning tasks to a teacher's aide in a classroom. You can tailor the powers granted to the agent and when they can act on your behalf to meet your specific needs. Failing to name an agent can result in your loved ones having to wait for a court-appointed decision-maker with no input from you.
A medical power of attorney enables you to designate a trusted person to act as your healthcare decision-maker and make medical decisions or communicate your healthcare preferences on your behalf if you become unable to do so, like a stand-in teacher for your healthcare. Without a formal designation, your loved ones would have to seek court appointment for someone to make medical decisions for you, which may not align with your wishes, and the process can be costly, time-consuming, and public, adding to the stress during a challenging time.
An advance directive, also known as a living will, is a teaching guide that communicates your specific wishes regarding end-of-life decisions. It is crucial to thoughtfully consider your desires regarding life-prolonging procedures and clearly convey them to your chosen medical decision-maker. Without these instructions, your medical decision-maker will have to make assumptions about your wishes, which can lead to stress and potential disagreements among your loved ones if their opinions differ.
A Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) authorization form allows you to authorize specific individuals to receive information about your medical condition, such as updates on your status or test results. This authorization does not grant decision-making authority to the named individuals; that power belongs to the medical decision-maker you have chosen in your medical power of attorney or the court-appointed individual if you have no valid medical power of attorney. Sharing information with your loved ones can ease anxieties and uncertainties that arise during emergencies. The HIPAA authorization can also help reduce tensions between the medical decision-maker and your loved ones and enable them to understand the reasons behind the decisions made.
Your next task is to contact us so that we can work with you to create a personalized estate plan that will safeguard you and your loved ones. Trusting an estate attorney to help you make the right plan is a great step in the right direction. Preparing a plan will put you at ease knowing your wishes will be honored, all of your assets will be distributed how you'd like, and all of the people you care about are accounted for if you happen to become incapacitated or pass on. Let's work together to create a comprehensive lesson plan for your inheritance planning needs.