Is Estate Planning One of Your New Year’s Resolutions? Nine Questions to Get You Started (Part 1)

People often start the New Year with goals for themselves for the year such as improving their health or writing a book. Making a last will and testament or other estate planning documents is also a common goal at the start of the year. How can you begin this process?

To begin, it’s important to understand what estate planning does as well as the ways it helps you and your loved ones. Estate planning is a way to protect you and those closest to you during your lifetime as well as after your death. You can be in control of much of what happens and who will be in charge of certain things if you become incapacitated or after you pass away. Expressing your wishes in legal documents can prevent conflicts between loved ones and can prevent unnecessary loss of time and money.

Here are nine questions to answer to formulate your estate plan:

Nine Questions

1. Who do you want to make financial decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so?

If you become incapacitated and unable to manage your financial affairs, who is someone you trust to help you and to access your accounts and pay your bills?

2. Who do you want to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so?

If you are in a coma or have a medical condition that causes you to become unable to communicate, who do you wish to be your healthcare proxy to speak with your doctors and make healthcare decisions on your behalf?

3. Do you have wishes for your end-of-life care?

This is a difficult topic to make decisions about, but it would likely be far more difficult for your loved ones for these decisions to be left up to them. Do you have wishes regarding life-prolonging measures you want to take in the case of a terminal condition or end-state illness?

4. What are your assets?

When it comes to your assets, it’s important that you know what property you own and how it is titled. Also, make sure that beneficiary designations are up-to-date for bank accounts, investments, retirement accounts or IRAs, and life insurance policies. These types of accounts will go to the beneficiaries that you name even if your will lists someone else.

5. Who are your beneficiaries?

If you do not name beneficiaries in your will, state laws may determine who gets what in a way you do not wish or may not expect. Decide who you want to inherit your property, and if you wish to, you can arrange for money to be held for minor beneficiaries in a trust.

6. Who do you want to care for your child(ren)?

If you pass away while you have minor children, they may need a guardian. Although naming a guardian to care for your children is not an easy decision to make, it is better to make this choice instead of leaving this decision up to a probate court.

7. Who do you want to care for your pet(s)?

The law considers your pets to be property, so it’s important to decide on who you want to give your pet to as well as if you want to leave money for the care of your pet.

8. Who do you want to manage your estate?

You’ll want to choose someone (called a personal representative or executor) who will be responsible for handling your estate and following the terms of your will.

9. Do you need life insurance or long-term care insurance?

If you have young children or dependents, you may want to consider term life insurance policies in order to provide for them if you die prematurely. You may also want to consider long-term care insurance to pay for nursing homes and end-of-life care.

In the next post, I’ll write about next steps in creating your estate plan.

For help with your estate plan, contact us at Wilson and Wilson Estate Planning and Elder Law, LLC at 708 482 7090 for our main office in LaGrange, Illinois or at 847 656 8958 for our Northbrook, Illinois office.