Creating an estate plan as a senior requires a more complex approach than someone in their 20s – including specific steps you must take to protect yourself.
No one sets out thinking about mortality. But eventually, you will come to the point where addressing your mortality is critical for yourself and your loved ones.
Ideally, you should start estate planning in your 20s. Most experts would agree that by then you have an income, debts, and possibly assets. All of which need to be addressed in an estate plan. In the United States, 81 percent of those ages 72 or older do have an estate plan, And Baby Boomers (ages 53 to 71) has 58 percent of their generation with a solid estate plan, too. However, an astounding 64 percent of Generation Xers (ages 37 to 52) do not have any estate plan. Therefore, if you are reaching retirement or you are a Baby Boomer without an estate plan, now is the time to implement one.
When you are retired or reaching retirement age, your estate planning is more complicated (and often feels rushed) compared to someone in their 20s. You do not have as many years to make corrections or put long-term plans in place. Also, you may need to conduct long-term care planning over the course of a few weeks rather than months.
Even if you do not have an estate plan, there is never a wrong time to start. An estate plan protects your loved ones from having to make difficult decisions but also ensures that your assets go to the beneficiaries you want to receive your estate.
Essential Steps to Follow for Plainview, NY Seniors Ready to Plan
Whether you are in your 50s or pushing 70, now is the time to get your estate in order. You may need to move quickly, but do not over-rush your decisions. Take the time to think about what you want and confer with a family to see if they agree with your choice.
Pick Your Estate Team
You need an estate planning team. This team of professionals will help create a plan that not only adheres to local laws but also protects your financial interests. A good team starts with an estate planning attorney. You will want an attorney that also has experience in elder law since some of the issues you must address focus specifically in that area of the law.
An accountant and financial advisor should also be brought into the team. You may already have an accountant that handles your budgets and taxes or an advisor that addresses your retirement. Regardless, having them ready to consult on your estate plan is critical.
Before your first meeting with an attorney, get an inventory of the estate. This includes:
- Investment accounts
- Retirement accounts
- Savings accounts
- Insurance policies
- Real estate and business holdings
- Sentimental items
- Debts owed by the estate
Think about the Critical Questions
You can streamline the estate planning process if you have some of the tougher questions already answered at your first appointment. These questions include:
- Who should inherit your assets?
- Who should be named as your guardian if you become incapacitated?
- Who should be responsible for the execution of your will (i.e. the executor)?
- Who should make financial and medical decisions if you cannot do so yourself?
Include the Essential Forms
You need the proper estate planning documents created to protect you and your estate. Your attorney will help decide which documents apply specifically to your case. Some that you can expect to file include:
- Advance Healthcare Directive – This discusses all healthcare preferences, including your wishes for life-saving treatments, blood transfusions, oxygen, and resuscitation.
- Power of Attorney – The power of attorney appoints someone who will handle your financial affairs if you become incapacitated. This party can be the same as the person named for your healthcare decisions, a professional, or a separate family member.
- HIPAA Release Form – The HIPAA release form allows those named for your health care directive and the power of attorney to access any health information so that they may handle insurance and healthcare decisions on your behalf.
- Will – Your will outlines your wishes, transfers assets to beneficiaries, and discusses funeral/burial wishes.
- Living Trust – Instead of transferring assets through a will, which requires that assets go through probate, you can establish a living trust. All assets are then moved into the trust, and upon your death automatically transfer to beneficiaries named in the documents. These are faster and more flexible, but not always necessary. If you suspect that your will would be contested, it may be in your best interest to create a living trust.
Write Your Funeral or Memorial Instructions
Some people find this the hardest part of estate planning – addressing their death. While you could include funeral and burial wishes in your will, it is recommended that you also write them down elsewhere. The reason is that wills may not be opened until days or weeks after the funeral.
Tell friends and family members about your wishes regarding your funeral and burial preferences. Then, give everyone associated with it copies of your requests and store the original in a safe place. If you already purchased a cemetery plot, keep the documentation with the original instruction, provide a copy to your attorney, and tell family members where the location is.
Do Not Forget About Your Pet
Pets are companions and members of the family. Yet, they are often forgotten when it comes to estate planning. You can create wishes and instructions for your pet so that they are cared for too. Name a beneficiary for your pet, or give instructions for what shelter to send the pet to if you were to pass.
Also, choose a backup guardian for your pet in case the party initially named is unable to fulfill their duty.
Speak with an Estate Planning Attorney
Creating an estate plan when you are older is complicated and requires addressing long-term care and other financial matters. Therefore, it is best that you consult with an attorney who has experience handling elder care plans and estates.