The importance of creating a robust Estate Plan

November 24, 2022

Written by
Sara Knee, Senior Expert at Apiary Life

The reasons for not prioritizing your estate planning range from a reluctance to think about one’s mortality, to being young and healthy and thinking you have “plenty of time”, to a belief that your assets are limited and straightforward and that a Will is therefore unnecessary. However, the reality is that every adult, regardless of their age, health, and financial situation should have a basic estate plan.

Hollywood blockbusters featuring the death of the patriarch or matriarch of a family often include the infamous scene of the reading of the Will; perhaps concluding with a disgruntled relative storming off and driving away in the car they inherited (or wished to inherit!) from the deceased. This narrative leaves many assuming that a Will is only for the ultra-wealthy, and unnecessary if you have limited or straightforward assets. This misconception can prove to be damaging and costly, and the realization that planning your estate is essential often does not happen until it is too late.  

The reasons for not prioritizing your estate planning range from a reluctance to think about one’s mortality, to being young and healthy and thinking you have “plenty of time”, to a belief that your assets are limited and straightforward and that a Will is therefore unnecessary. However, the reality is that every adult, regardless of their age, health, and financial situation should have a basic estate plan.

Whilst this may sound daunting, it is actually quite straightforward and can be done with relatively little investment of time or money.
So, what does an estate plan consist of? Whilst this depends on your particular circumstances, every person should consider as a minimum putting in place a Will. In addition it is important that consideration is given to how you wish to be treated and who should make decisions in relation to your health and welfare and financial affairs if you are unable to do so.

The type of documents which you will need to consider vary depending on jurisdiction and even within jurisdiction depending on state requirements but could include living wills, healthcare proxies (also known as a lasting power of attorney for health and welfare), powers of attorney (also known as a lasting power of attorney for financial affairs).Aside from these important documents, you may also choose to have Trusts for the benefit of your estate or for the benefit of a loved one. Each of these documents has its own function and we will investigate them in a little more detail below: -

1.    First, the most widely known and necessary document, the Will.  The Will details who will administer your estate following your death, the identity of any executors/trustees required under the terms of your Will and how any property in your estate will be divided and passed to your beneficiaries.

2.    Second, a document appointing someone to make medical decisions for you in the event that you are unable to make such decisions yourself – you will need to consider which document you will need depending on your jurisdiction but by way of example this is known as a health care proxy in the US, a lasting power of attorney for health and welfare in the UK or a medical enduring power of attorney in Australia and/or a living will, which will dictate the type of medical treatments you would or would not want if you were unable to communicate your wishes.

3.    Third, a document appointing someone to make financial and legal decisions for you in the event that you are unable to make such decisions yourself – as with number two above –you will need to consider which document you will need depending on your jurisdiction but by way of example this is known as a Power of Attorney in the US, a Lasting Power of Attorney for Property and Financial Affairs in the UK or an Enduring Power of Attorney in Australia. The person can have limited or broad authority to make a variety of decisions regarding your property, finances or investments.

4.    Finally, trusts can designate or protect assets in either your estate’s name or the name of a loved one.

Often people believe that if their assets are simple, straightforward or minimal, then an estate plan is unnecessary. This, sadly, is a myth that may cost your family not only financially, but also emotionally, as they must work through your estate without any direction whilst also grieving. Imagine a 40-year-old professional on the rise in his career with a spouse and two young children at home. He suddenly collapses at the office, never to regain consciousness and passes away within a week. He never prepared an estate plan believing he had many more years ahead of him with his young family. His spouse, also a professional, is tasked with not only discovering where all of the assets and debts are held and caring for two young children while grieving, but also meeting with lawyers to apply to become the administrator of the estate, planning for the children to receive the portion of the estate that they automatically inherit and ensuring that the estate is properly administered.  Much of the uncertainty and additional workload could have been avoided if there was an estate plan in place.

If you want to start thinking about preparing your estate plan, here are some things to consider before engaging a lawyer:-

(a)  Who you would trust to administer your estate;
(b)  Who you would trust to make medical decisions if you are unable to do so;
(c)   Who you would trust to make financial decisions if you are unable to do so;
(d)  Whether you wish to be an organ donor;
(e)  Whether you wish to be kept alive by artificial means; and
(f)   Who you would want to care for a minor child if his or her other parent is unable to or is also deceased.

It is also prudent to keep updated records of all of your accounts, business interests, real property, debts, safe deposit boxes, and other valuable information. This will assist with the administration of your estate and ensure that your executors or administrators know where to locate and access the information.  

It is natural to feel uncomfortable talking about or planning for your own eventual death, but a little investment of time now can have an immeasurable benefit for your family and loved ones after your passing.  Take the process step by step, and the task of creating your estate plan will be less daunting. Once it is complete, you can put it in a safe place and know that you have completed an invaluable task for your family’s future benefit and comfort.

Reach out to an Apiary expert today to learn more about the estate planning process and assistance with estate planning. We are here to support you and your family through every stage of life.
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