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Estate Planning – A Legacy to Smile About

The estate planning that you do (or don’t do) will leave a lasting impression upon your loved ones.  Will they love you for it?  Planning your estate, the extent of your planning, and the thoughtfulness by which you plan your estate is an extension of who you are. It’s your last gift to the people you love. Estates that are well planned and carefully considered are a blessing.

On the other hand, estates that are not well planned and not well considered – or not planned at all – can be a curse for your loved ones. The mess you leave behind with all the loose ends that are untied is a burden no one wants to face, especially while grieving your death.

We see the best and the worst of it. Nothing triggers the dysfunction of a family (and we all have some dysfunction in our families), like a lack of estate planning, old estate planning that was never updated or shoddy estate planning that is incomplete, ill-conceived and not well thought out.

Most of us don’t really want to spend a lot of time thinking about our own deaths, but death is inevitable. It’s better to face the inevitable consequence of our demise and to eliminate that nagging feeling that we should be doing something. Because we should be doing something about it! At least, then, we can buy some peace of mind.

Estate Planning allows us to determine for ourselves who will handle our estates, who will raise our children, who will receive our assets and how they will be managed. Estate Planning includes putting in place mechanisms for the management of our affairs and necessary decision-making if we become incapacitated and unable to manage our own affairs while we are still living. Doing estate planning allows us control of the management of our estates to:

  • Choose who will handle the estate;
  • Choose who will receive the assets of the estate;
  • Leave detailed instructions for how the estate will be handled;
  • Streamline the administration of the estate, saving time and cost and frustrations for loved ones;
  • Protect the assets left to loved ones; and
  • Minimize or even avoid altogether state inheritance taxes and federal estate taxes.

Estate planning involves some combination of Wills, and possibly Trusts, together with Powers of Attorney, and Living Wills, and other instruments as appropriate in the given circumstances.  A good estate planning attorney doesn’t just prepare the documents. He or she should be able to help you to understand the issues, the options and to craft a plan that takes into account all the little quirks and unique characteristics of your family and estate.

A good estate planning attorney will also help you implement your plan to insure that it “works” the way you intend.  Estate planning can be highly technical and very detail orientated, but a good estate planning attorney can break it down into manageable segments and walk you through the details that need to be considered and simplify the technical aspects of it.

As difficult as estate planning may seem, the difficulties that are left behind for loved ones from a lack of estate planning is something they won’t be able to avoid if you haven’t tackled it during your life. Struggling with administrative burdens and issues is not the legacy most people want to leave their loved ones. A little planning ahead on your part can make the administration of your estate much easier for the people you love.

Your loved ones will love you all the more for it! Don’t leave a mess for them that will cloud their memories of you. Leave them a legacy they can smile about.

For many people, going through a divorce seems like an endless tunnel with the light that seems like a long time coming. When the light does come, and the process is over, the last thing a person might want to do is to think about death. You are looking forward to a new life!

Future planning may take a back seat as a person gets used to single life again, but the reality is that things have changed, and you need to consider how that affects your estate planning. The last thing you probably want to happen is for your ex to gain control of your estate, or worse – take your property – after the divorce.

You have future planning to do. Not only has your present life changed, but your future is different as well, and your estate planning needs to reflect your new future.

If you are going through a divorce, planning for after your divorce is a good idea. You should at least know that there are some things that should not be put off. Once you find your equilibrium, you should plan for the new future that you have. If you have already gone through a divorce, but you have yet to plan for your future, now is the time.

Following are five (5) areas in which a person should plan for after the divorce.

  1. Financial Planning. Living life on your own is different than living life with someone else. You don’t have the efficiencies of two people living together in one household. Whether you have always budgeted, or never, getting some input from a financial planner is a good idea – not only for daily life, but to plan for your future that now looks different than what it was.
  2. Beneficiary Designations. Most people have life insurance, IRAs, 401(K)’s or some combination of qualified plan assets or other assets that have beneficiary designations. Most people designate their spouses as beneficiaries. If you are getting divorced, or are recently divorced, you need to change your beneficiary designations. You may not be able to change some of them without your spouse’s consent while you are still married. Once you are divorced, however, you no longer need your ex-spouse’s consent. Any asset that has a beneficiary designation should be changed right away because, when you die, your ex-spouse will receive those assets if he/she is the beneficiary regardless of the fact that you are divorced if he/she is still listed as the beneficiary.
  3. Powers of Attorney. Having Powers of Attorney in place in the event that you become incapacitated at some point in your life, whether temporarily or more permanently, is always a good idea. Without a power of attorney in place, someone would have to petition a court to become your guardian in order to have the ability to manage your affairs and make decisions for you if you cannot manage your own affairs and make decisions for yourself. It could even be your ex-spouse!

By doing Powers of Attorney, you can designate people of your choosing who will be able to manage your affairs and make decisions for you without having to open a guardianship estate, and you will avoid the possibility of someone you don’t want, like your ex-spouse, becoming your guardian.

  1. Last Will and Testament. Whether you have already done a Will, or haven’t done one yet, you should think about doing a new Will once your divorce is finalized. It is even more important for a single person to do a Will because you no longer have a spouse who would be your default heir. If you have minor children, or you are concerned about the influence of your ex-spouse on your children, you will want to do a new Will so that you control who has access to your assets, where they will go, and who will have authority over them.
  2. Revocable trust. The ultimate vehicle for maintaining control over your assets is a revocable (“living”) trust. A Will gives you a measure of control, but a Trust gives you the greatest measure of control. You can explore the differences between a Will and a Trust with a reputable estate planning attorney who can help you to make sure that your future and the future of your children and your estate is in your hands, and doesn’t fall into the hands or under the influence of your ex-spouse.

When your divorce is over, the future lies in front of you. Your planning has just begun. Take control of your future by doing the planning you should be doing. Don’t put it off.

Kevin G. Drendel
Drendel & Jansons Law Group
111 Flinn Street
Batavia, IL 60510
630-406-6179 fax
[email protected]