What is an estate plan? When do you need one? What should you include? All of these questions may be running through your mind. On the heels of National Estate Planning Awareness Month, we asked Mark Eghrari, founder of the Eghrari Wealth Training Law Firm, to provide the answers.
These are the seven things to remember, according to an estate planning expert:
Everyone Needs an Estate Plan
“An estate plan is where you take control and say how things should go if something happens to you,” explained Eghrari. “It’s important to remember that estate planning isn’t just for after you pass away but for when you’re alive as well. You need a durable power of attorney, a healthcare proxy and a living will that states your advanced life support wishes if you become incapacitated.”
When should you begin your estate plan? Eghrari recommends creating an estate plan when you have big milestone events in your life, such as buying your first home, getting married or having your first child. When it comes to children, think about questions like these: Who will be your child’s guardian if something happens to you? Who will guard your property and who will protect your child’s inheritance?
Traditional estate plans are typically developed by individuals in their 60s and 70s. These plans specify what happens to your property, your money and your investments after you die. A comprehensive plan will further explain your wishes and often alleviate the burdens on your family.
All Estate Plans Are Unique
There is no cookie-cutter estate plan. “You need to have a heart-to-heart conversation with an attorney about your family and your assets and what you want to accomplish,” said Eghrari.
Each estate plan is different but should always include:
- Trust – Allowing more control over your distribution of wealth
- Will – In case assets are left outside of the trust
- Review of your wealth – Showing where your investments are and what banks hold your money
- Durable power of attorney
- Living will
- Healthcare proxy
- HIPAA authorization
The First Step Doesn’t Have to Be Hard
The estate planning basics are taught at many seminars, including those at Eghrari’s firm. Then you will need to find a lawyer you are comfortable with and schedule a personal consultation.
“They will get to know you, your concerns, and what legal work you need. Afterward, they will review your assets, what should be included in your trust, and determine any tax implications,” Eghrari said. Some things to include are property deeds, investment statements, retirement account statements and bank account information.
“We’re handling your life’s work,” he said. “We want to make sure everything is in order for you.”
You Should Adjust Your Estate Plan
On average, the initial process takes five or six weeks, but signing the documents doesn’t always mean you’re done. Your estate plan is good for about seven to 10 years, but it will need some tweaking, according to Eghrari, especially if you create an estate plan early on. “Life changes,” he said. “You may have more children, buy more property, get married or remarried, so you must update your plan as you age. The more you stay in touch with your lawyer, the better they get to know you, and the fewer questions there are after your death.”
Your Assets Will Be Safe
With the right estate plan and by continuing to communicate with your lawyer, you can rest assured that your assets will be safe. There is a lot of accounting that has to happen after your death. To the extent legally permitted, your lawyer will work hard to ensure your assets are distributed without any tax burden or cost to your spouse, children, grandchildren, or whoever you list in your estate plan.
For those without estate plans, things can get messy, resulting in a tax burden and family disputes. “Everyone knows someone who no longer talks to a sibling over an inheritance,” said Eghrari. “That could be avoided with careful, thorough and clear estate planning documents.”
Your Executor Doesn’t Need to Be Your Firstborn
When choosing the executor of your estate, finding someone reliable and whom you can trust is crucial. You’ll need someone who can handle settling your estate in an honest, fair way for all beneficiaries. “What do your heart and your head say about who will be the best person?” Eghrari said. “To avoid leaving anyone out, you can name all your children. It doesn’t have to be your eldest child or the child who is an accountant. There’s a lot of emotion when someone passes away. Naming all of your children brings the family together instead of putting the decision-making on one person.” When more than one trustee is named, the trust document may require that they must all take any actions together regarding your estate, or that they take a majority vote on any decisions needed.
You Can Include Charities
Sometimes, people have an abundance of assets, and there is more than enough to take care of their loved ones. In that case, you may mention a charitable interest to your lawyer or estate planner, who can help advise you on how to include a charitable gift in your estate plan. “People may think of themselves as young and without money, and they haven’t considered that leaving some funds to a charity is an option for them,” Eghrari said. He added that charitable giving can be paired with great tax planning.
Charitable estate gifts can be made to Stony Brook University. It could be a bequest of a specific amount or a percentage of whatever is left after providing adequately for your loved ones. If you’re interested in including Stony Brook in your estate plan, contact one of our gift planners for the information you need to make a lasting legacy at the university.
More about our expert Mark Eghrari
Eghrari Wealth Training Law Firm is centered on core values such as teamwork and education. Their purpose is to empower their clients to create estate plans that work best for them.
Eghrari is a member of the Stony Brook Children’s Hospital Advancement Council, a group that focuses on raising funds and awareness for the hospital. Over the years, Eghrari and his firm have generously contributed funds to Stony Brook Children’s.