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Steps to a Successful Estate Plan

By: Attorney Carissa Giebel April 26, 2011

Nobody enjoys planning for the end of life, but this planning is more of a gift you leave to your family. By planning ahead of time and getting your affairs in order, your loved ones are spared the time, expenses, and anxiety of putting your pieces together.

One of the most important steps in estate planning is planning for potential disability.

Health care directives will put your health care wishes in writing in case someday you are unable to make your own medical decisions. You should have a Health Care Power of Attorney and a Living Will (also known as Declaration to Physicians). A Health Care Power of Attorney gives someone you choose the power to make health care decisions for you in case you can’t make them yourself. You also need a Durable Power of Attorney for finances, which gives someone the power to handle your finances and property if you are unable to.

A will or a trust is needed to transfer your assets after death to those you love or to organizations dear to your heart. You need to name a personal representative (or executor) for a will, or a trustee for a trust, to manage your estate after death until all your assets are distributed. If you have minor children, you can name a guardian for your children in your will. You might also choose to name someone to manage money or property left to your minor children, especially if you don’t want them receiving a lump sum when they turn 18.

You might want to consider asset protection planning. Many are interested in protecting assets for beneficiaries, to protect inheritance from divorce, creditors, lawsuits, bankruptcy, or maybe receiving a lump sum of money could be harmful to a loved one because of a special need, whether it is financial, medical, or educational. Protecting assets from nursing home costs is also a common concern. Whether planning years ahead, or nursing home care is an immediate concern, the proper planning can protect a significant amount of assets.

You can set up a plan to ensure your funeral expenses are covered and money is available right away for loved ones. Sometimes a prepaid funeral plan or a life insurance policy for funeral expenses is used. You may also want to make your final wishes known regarding organ and body donation and disposition of your body- burial or cremation.

It’s important to make sure your property is titled properly and your beneficiary designations are updated and coordinated with your overall estate plan. Keep copies of your beneficiary designations with your other estate planning documents.

If you’re a business owner, it’s important to have a business succession plan in place, including a buy/sell agreement. Your business plan must be coordinated with your personal estate plan.

Gather your important documents. Keep account statements accessible and insurance policies somewhere easy to find. Discuss with your loved ones and/or agents where your estate planning documents are kept and how to access them, especially if a code or key is needed.

If you already have an estate plan in place, have it reviewed every couple of years. Often, changes need to be made when there’s a marriage, divorce, death of a spouse or child, death or disability of an agent, birth of a child, moving to a different state, or an increase in wealth. Even if nothing significant changes in your life, it’s still important to have your documents reviewed because the laws change constantly and it could be in your best interest to update your estate plan.

This is not a conclusive list of steps, but it’s a good start. Don’t put off planning any further. Start today to save the pressures your loved ones will have to deal with.

Carissa Giebel is an estate planning attorney and partner at Legacy Law Group, LLC. She can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or (920) 560-4651.

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