Some people may think that only high-net-worth individuals need estate plans, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Clients of all ages, income levels and family sizes have benefited from creating estate plans to minimize taxes, reduce attorney and court costs, avoid probate, and ensure the smooth distribution of assets after death.

Typically, some or all of the following elements are part of a well-drafted estate plan:

  • Last Will and Testament
  • Durable Powers of Attorney
  • Healthcare Directives
  • Guardianship for minor children
  • Consideration for beneficiaries with special needs
  • Beneficiary designations
  • Naming an executor
  • Tax planning
  • Trusts

Assets that are often addressed in an estate plan include:

  • Insurance
  • Investments and brokerage accounts
  • Real Estate
  • Stocks and other securities
  • Retirement accounts and pensions
  • Businesses
  • Bank accounts
  • Personal possessions like jewelry, artwork and sentimental heirlooms

By including these things in an estate plan, you can make sure that your wishes are honored and assets go to the people you have chosen.  It is an immensely caring act to create an estate plan that provides for future generations and ensures the well-being of the people you love.

Timing is Important: Creating and Updating Estate Plans

Estate planning can be one of those things that is easy to put off until tomorrow or next year, but that’s a mistake that families don’t want to fall into.  We live in a world of uncertainty, especially now in the midst of a pandemic.  It’s important not to let the immediate get in the way of the important.  An estate plan is an essential legal tool that will protect your family for decades to come.

The time to have these conversations is now, thereby laying the groundwork for an estate plan that is well-reasoned, clear and comprehensive.  As part of your estate planning conversations during the holiday season, it’s also a good idea to check in with older family members to ensure that their affairs are in order.

Once created, an estate plan is a living document that can be updated periodically rather than forgotten on a dusty shelf.   The plan should be updated after important family events such as marriages, divorces, births, deaths, home purchases, extended travel, retirement, business acquisitions and similar life turning points.  This is especially true if there are children, step-children and more than one surviving or former spouse.

Some clients even pick one day a year – say, New Year’s Day or their wedding anniversary – to review their estate plan and make any changes or adjustments necessary.  At Michael Sullivan & Associates, we can help you do this.  We view our role as advisors in addition to offering sharp legal minds.  We understand that one size does not fit all where estate planning is concerned, so we take the time to listen closely to our clients and help them explore their planning options.

We want to make sure that nothing is overlooked so that you have confidence in your plan.  In this way, you can avoid your estate’s being managed by the wrong person or assets falling into the hands of beneficiaries you did not choose.  After all, if you do not create a will and estate plan in writing that makes your wishes clear, then a probate judge will distribute your assets based on California Probate Code, which may or may not reflect your desires.