At a recent Estate Planning Workshop, a parent asked what I considered to be the 5 main pillars of estate planning. If one parent is asking, then I guessed that other parents are wondering, so here goes:
- Trustee or Personal Representative. This is choosing a person to manage your money and other assets. This person handles the distribution of your estate by serving as Trustee (if you have chosen to avoid probate) or as Personal Representative through the probate process. Most people choose a trusted friend or family member who is well-organized and responsible.
- Beneficiaries. Beneficiaries are the people or organizations you choose to inherit your estate. SO, by choosing beneficiaries, you are choosing who will receive your money and other assets when you die. You choose these beneficiaries in a last will or trust, or if you don’t have either of these documents, state law will determine who gets your stuff.
- Guardians. Choosing guardians to care for your children. If you are a parent to minor children you should nominate an individual or couple to serve as guardian/s (i.e., a person or a family to care for them in the way that you would want them to be cared for) in case you are incapacitated or die unexpectedly. It’s good practice to choose one or two alternate guardians after your first choice.
- Power of Attorney. Many people think that personal representative and power of attorney are the same, but they are not (see here). Financial Power of Attorney is choosing who will make financial decisions if you are incapacitated. This allows another person to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf if you are unable to speak for yourself. Choose wisely, my friends.
- Healthcare. Choosing who will make healthcare decisions if you are incapacitated. If you are unable to speak for yourself, for example while unconscious in surgery or after a car accident, you may designate a person to advise your doctors and make decisions for you.
Those are the top 5 for most people and families. Some close runners-up are 1) properly completing beneficiary designation forms, tax avoidance (capital gains or estate) and business succession planning.
Colin Ley is a Seattle estate planning attorney. He is also the co-founder of LayRoots along with his wife, Shreya.