As we grow older, estate planning becomes increasingly important to ensure your interests and property are protected. Ideally, an estate plan should be comprehensive, and include plans for the possibility that you will be incapacitated while you are still alive, along with plans for what happens when you pass away. Here are five things you should consider when making your estate plan:

1) What property do you have?

It seems like it should be pretty obvious that before you start planning your estate, you should know what property will actually be in that estate. And yet, it is a surprisingly common occurrence where a valuable piece of property or forgotten bank account will turn up with no one to claim it as their inheritance. When this happens, it can set off a significant legal battle as your heirs fight over who gets to inherit it. Thus, you should keep an up-to-date inventory of all your property, and ensure your will accurately reflects how you want that property to be distributed after you die.

2) Who do you want to be your beneficiaries?

One of the most important questions you can ask yourself is who you want to benefit from your estate. This includes who will inherit under a last will and testament, but also who will be the beneficiaries of any trusts you establish, who will receive any retirement benefits you are owed, and who will receive compensation from your life insurance policy. Ensuring your beneficiaries are who you wish them to be will ensure your loved ones are taken care of, and avoid problems that may arise from the wrong people being given the wrong property.

3) Do you have advance directives in place?

Advance directives refer to a set of legal arrangements that determine what will happen if you are rendered incapacitated, or otherwise unable to handle your personal affairs while you are still alive. These include arrangements like a power of attorney, a health care proxy and a living will. Without these important documents in place, your family may be forced to get a legal guardianship to ensure your legal, financial, and medical issues can be handled when you become incapacitated, which can be a substantial burden for your loved ones to undertake at a likely time of crisis.

4) Do you have care arranged for minor children or dependents?

Most people want nothing more than to ensure their children and other dependents are taken care of. And yet, without the right arrangements in place, the people who depend on you could be thrust into legal limbo if you suddenly become unable to care for them. You should make sure you have plans in place to guarantee their care, even if you become incapacitated or pass away.

5) Do you know who you want to execute your estate?

In theory, the question of who should execute your estate should be a mostly procedural issue. In practice, however, the question of who should be made your executor is a significant one, as your executor has a great deal of power over how your estate will be handled. If you do not appoint someone to be your executor, it will be the probate court that makes that decision for you, and you may not like who the court decides to pick.

The elder law attorneys at David J. Lorber & Associates, PLLC will thoroughly analyze your estate and work with you to determine the best means of transferring your assets, minimizing taxes, and ensuring your needs are met. For comprehensive estate planning services in New York, call David J. Lorber & Associates, PLLC at (631) 750-0900 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation at our Setauket office.

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