When was the last time you played “Duck, Duck, Goose”? If you’re like most people, you probably said when you were a kid, probably about 10 years old. Next question: When was the last time that you reviewed your will and/or trust? If you’re like most people, perhaps never, if you haven’t done any estate planning yet. Or perhaps it was many years ago when you first had children of your own.
If either of the answers to that last question describes you fairly accurately, then think about this for a minute: Your estate planning (or lack thereof) affects every dollar of every asset that you currently own and will own in the future. Is that an important enough reason for you to stop and think about how you might want to protect those assets for you or your family? Keep in mind Benjamin Franklin’s famous saying, “The only two things certain in life are death and taxes.” Unfortunately death someday is a certainty for all of us. We can choose to be proactive about that kind of planning or we can procrastinate forever and remain in denial and indifferent. If you choose to be proactive and think about when – not if – something happens to you, a few of the most basic questions to ask yourself are: Who do you want to receive your assets and under what conditions? What happens to your assets if you have no will or estate plan? What legal hoops does your family have to jump through should you lose mental capacity (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease) or become disabled prior to your death? You answers to questions like these are the essence of Estate Planning 101.
Another important point we all need to realize is that “doing nothing” is really the same as making an active decision to accept the “default laws” of the one or more states in which we reside or own any property. The “do nothing” approach therefore raises some interesting questions. Do you know what those default laws say? If those laws were followed, is that what you actually want to have happen? Or, if you last looked at your will, trust, or powers of attorney a few decades ago, do those old documents reflect your current intent today? What has changed between now and then? Have any family members grown up and become adults, got married, divorced, had or adopted children, or died? Have federal or state tax or property laws changed since then? Has anyone done anything or have their circumstances changed such that it now gives you pause as to whether he or she would be a “good fit” to act on your behalf either as a guardian, executor, trustee, or agent under a power of attorney?
Our lives are constantly in motion. When we stop and think about it, a lot of things change in the course of a year, let alone five years or decade. As adults, citizens, and taxpayers, we are “presumed” to know all the laws and how they relate to our financial and legal affairs. However, you don’t have to “go it alone”. That is what we are here for - attorneys that concentrate our practices in estate planning. We can guide you through the myriad of questions you need to be asking yourself every few years as you create and review your estate plan.
Even though I began this article talking about a kid’s game, please know that your estate planning is not “child’s play”. Again, your plan (or lack thereof) affects every asset you currently own or will own in the future. You need to know how all of your assets and accounts are titled. You need to know who the primary and contingent beneficiaries are on all of your life insurance policies. You need to know if you, as a surviving spouse or child, would receive an inheritance with strong asset protection or, if instead, that inheritance would be “on the table” for someone else to grab if you ever got into a legal dispute.
The time is now. I highly encourage you to take some time out one evening this month, pour yourself a favorite summertime drink, and really think about some of the questions I just raised. Only you have the ability to take control of your own estate planning. “When the time comes” let’s not make our family members get tagged in a game of “Duck, Duck, Goose” and have to run around - frantically in circles - trying to figure out what to do with our disorganized and haphazardly-arranged estate. Instead, let’s all take control this year and be the ones to make a comprehensive “circle” around all of our assets and plan for some basic contingencies and “what ifs”. Having an estate plan brings peace of mind and also the chance to leave a legacy the way you would want to be remembered.
Simply put: Let’s make this the year we get all of our “ducks” in a row. To start the process, please contact Marc J. Lane in confidence via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via telephone at (312) 372-1040/ (800) 372-1040.
Jeffrey A. Miller is Of Counsel with the Law Offices of Marc J. Lane, A Professional Corporation. Mr. Miller received his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois. Mr. Miller received his law degree and his masters of laws (LLM) in taxation, with honors, from IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. Mr. Miller is also a Certified Financial Planner.
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