By Jessica L. Estes
Asset preservation is simple; all it takes are three easy steps. First, know the rules. Second, know your predators. Third, know your options.
There are two sets of rules: rules that apply during your lifetime and rules that apply after your death. During your lifetime, your named financial and health care powers of attorney will be able to act for you with respect to your finances and medical/end- of-life decisions, respectively. These are your rules. If you do not have these powers of attorney, you should get them; otherwise, your loved ones will have to apply for legal guardianship of you. Not only does this require certificates of incompetency from two doctors, but it also requires a hearing and/or trial, which can be costly. And, the court will be involved in your finances and health care decisions until you die. Guardianship is the government’s rules.
After your death, your Last Will and Testament will take effect and your personal representative, or executor, will distribute your assets to your beneficiaries. The Will represents your rules, but the Will must be probated, which is a legal process involving court oversight (or, the government’s rules). Again, this can be costly, ranging from 5% to 20% of the total value of your estate according to AARP, and the personal representative cannot distribute assets to the beneficiaries for a minimum of six months. Also, probate estates are available for public inspection. Rather than a Will, you may want to consider a trust, which would bypass the probate process and the government’s involvement.
Now that you know the rules, you need to be aware of your predators. They include the government (i.e., guardianship, probate, and taxes), long-term care costs (i.e. in-home care, assisted living and nursing homes), family (e.g. a spouse that requires long-term care or a child that is a spendthrift), and lawsuits, either yours or your beneficiaries.
Finally, your options – use the government’s rules or make your own. By drafting your documents in a way that assures: 1) you are in control, 2) you decide who benefits from your estate plan and 3) you direct when and under what circumstances (e.g. while you are alive and well, incapacitated, and deceased) such benefits are distributed, you have created a proper estate plan that protects not only you, but your family as well, during your lifetime and after. And remember, most people have documents, but not a plan. To create your plan today call ERA Law Group at (410) 919-1790!