Estate Planning: Wills, Medical Directives, and Other Necessities
Roger P. Levin, DDS
CEO, Levin Group, Inc Owings Mills, Maryland
If you ever need to end a conversation quickly, just mention “estate planning.” For many people, it is viewed as an unpleasant subject that should be avoided. Not many of us like to consider our own mortality, but talking to a competent attorney about estate planning is an important part of planning for the future, and can make a world of difference to your spouse, children, and other heirs.
The basic documents related to estate planning are a simple will, powers-of-attorney authorization, and medical directives. Everyone should have a will created early in his or her adult life to provide direction to loved ones in the case of a premature death. A will helps reduce stress during a trying time for family members. Depending on the state where you live, a will may save your heirs significant money or spare them from protracted legal issues.
While a will would be used upon your death, powers of attorney and medical directives can be exercised during your lifetime in case you become incapacitated. A power of attorney provides someone close to you with the ability to manage your financial affairs if you are unable to function in this role. Clients of Levin Group have used these documents when undergoing chemotherapy, recovering from surgical procedures, rehabilitating after automobile accidents, and other short-term situations until they can resume their ability to handle their own finances.
A living will records your wishes regarding various types of medical treatment, including resuscitation and artificial feeding. This legal document allows you to appoint a proxy, someone who will make your medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so. A living will can also cover your wishes regarding organ donation. If you do not have a living will, it is recommended that you have one created as soon as possible. If you already have one, review it and make sure that your wishes are still valid.
As you grow older and your financial situation becomes more complex, your estate-planning documents should become more advanced. These documents include credit shelter trusts and revocable trusts.
Credit shelter trusts are typically provisions contained in wills that create trusts designed to maximize use of the federal estate tax exemption upon your death. These trusts depend to a large degree on asset titling. If you have wills with credit shelter trusts, consider reviewing your asset titling to ensure consistency with other estate-planning documents. Revocable trusts function as substitutes for your will and credit shelter trust, and allow you to “test drive” your estate plan. These are particularly useful when property is owned in multiple states or in a case with children from previous relationships.
Certain additional documents are designed to protect your most valuable assets, including property, savings, and investments. Asset protection structures, such as family limited partnerships (FLPs) and limited liability corporations (LLCs), make it more difficult for your assets to be lost as a result of litigation arising from an accident in which you are deemed liable for damages.
Estate planning should not be put off. It is a lifelong process that should be started as early as possible in one’s career. Estate-planning documents should be reviewed every few years make sure they reflect your current financial status and wishes. By delaying estate planning, you could cause untold stress and possibly significant financial loss to your heirs. Using a step-by-step process to ensure the proper documents are in place will give you—and your family—greater peace of mind.
For a no-cost consultation to better understand estate planning or financial planning, please call Levin Financial Services at 1-888-973-0000.
This article does not constitute legal or tax advice, nor is it intended to provide specific investment advice. Please consult your legal, tax, and financial advisors if you have questions.