A: A comprehensive estate plan should generally include the following documents which are based upon your family and financial situation:
Will: A will is a written document disposing your property/assets as per your wishes after death. A Will can also specify other wishes such as the type of funeral you would like, organ donation, a guardian for your children etc. However, there must be a declaration with respect to property without which it ceases to be a Will.
Financial Power of Attorney: A financial power of attorney allows someone to carry on your financial affairs if you become disabled. Without a properly drafted power of attorney, it may be necessary for someone to go to court to have a guardian or conservator appointed to make decisions for you during a period of incapacitation. This guardianship process is time-consuming, emotionally draining and very expensive.
Letter of Guardianship: You should appoint a Guardian for your minor children through a ‘Letter of Guardianship’.
Revocable Trust: Like a will, a revocable trust is a legal document that provides for the management and distribution of your assets after your death. A revocable trust has certain advantages when compared to a will. A revocable trust allows for the immediate transfer of assets after death without court interference. It also allows for the management of your affairs in case of incapacity, without the need for a guardianship or conservatorship process.
A revocable trust can be used to hold legal title to and provide a mechanism to manage your property. Typically, you (and your spouse if desired) will be the trustee(s) and beneficiaries during your lifetime. You also designate successor trustees to carry out your instructions in case of death or incapacity. One of the great benefits of a properly funded revocable trust is the fact that it will avoid or minimize the expense, delays and publicity associated with probate.
Pour Over Will: If you have a revocable trust, you also need a pour-over will. For those with minor children, the nomination of a guardian must be set forth in a will. The other major function of a pour-over will is that it names an executor and allows the executor to transfer any assets owned by the decedent into the decedent’s trust so that they are distributed according to its terms.
If you already have an estate plan, it should not be considered permanent. Conditions, as well as your desires, may change. Estate plans should be reviewed at least every two-three years but, additionally, any important change in your life demands immediate review.
These changes might include:
- Birth, death, marriage, divorce or disability of you or a beneficiary
- Large increase or decrease in the net worth of you or a beneficiary
- Substantial change in the type of your assets
- Purchase or sale of a business
- Change of residence to another country
- Change in tax & succession law.