Estate planning fundamentals

There are many reasons a person may desire to establish an estate plan, regardless of the value of the relevant property or the specificity of one’s end-of-life wishes. Due to the increasing complexity of legal and tax implications of dying without an estate plan for caring for and distributing one’s property after death and defining one’s end-of-life wishes, it is wise for everyone to have some type of estate plan.

A quality estate plan helps to protect the rights of both the owner of the plan and others who might be affected when the owner dies or is legally incapacitated. Aside from indicating how an individual would prefer for assets to be divided after death, a good estate plan will clearly define in individual’s health care preferences in the event that he or she is not able to convey them personally. If, for instance, an individual does not desire to be placed on life support in the event of incapacitation, or desires to be cremated upon death and have his or her ashes sprinkled on the shore of Lake Huron, an estate plan can make all of that clear.

Estate plans also should define who will receive ownership of an individual’s belongings upon his or her death, and should specify if there is another person (called the executor) who is given the responsibility of executing that individual’s wishes as they are outlined in the plan. An estate plan may also name a guardian for surviving children and other dependents.

In big and small ways, an estate plan simplifies the difficult process of sorting through an individual’s affairs when he or she passes away or is incapacitated, whether such a state is anticipated or unexpected. Qualified legal counsel can guide those seeking to establish an estate plan and help care for the ones they love long before and after death.