Personal Injury & Estate Planning Topics

Estate Planning Awareness Week

What is estate planning? Why is it important? National Estate Planning Awareness Week is an annual event during the third week of October that was created to help people get answers to those vital questions. It is estimated that over 120 million Americans do not have up-to-date estate plans to protect themselves or their families in the event of sickness, accidents, or untimely death. Long & Long’s estate planning attorneys share some helpful tips so that you and your loved ones are prepared.

  1. Take Inventory of Your Probate and Non-Probate Assets
    • Review your probate and non-probate assets to ensure they support your estate plan. It is important to understand which assets you own are probate assets and which assets pass outside of probate. Probate is the process through which a court determines how to distribute your property after you die. Some assets are distributed to heirs by the court (probate assets) and some assets bypass the court process and go directly to your beneficiaries (non-probate assets). It is also essential to check your beneficiary designations on all life insurance policies and retirement plans including contingent beneficiary designations.
  2. Cover all Your Bases with a Complete Estate Plan
    • A complete estate plan, at a minimum, includes a will, power of attorney, and a health care power of attorney (living will).  In your will, be sure to appoint someone that you trust as executor of your estate. Your will should also assign guardianship for your minor children as well as any pets. In addition, set up both financial and health care powers of attorney so that people you trust will be prepared to handle your affairs should something happen to you. You can also write a step-by-step letter of instruction as well as spell out your personal wishes for things like your funeral or what to do with your assets. If you are married, each spouse should create a separate will, with plans for the surviving spouse. Finally, make sure that all the concerned individuals (your Executor(s) and Powers of Attorney) have copies of these documents.
  3. Consider a Special Needs Trust
    • Did you know if your child or grandchild has special needs including mental or physical disabilities, you can set up what is commonly referred to as a “Special Needs Trust“? This type of Trust allows you to provide for a child or grandchild with special needs but preserves their eligibility for needs-based government benefits such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income. By planning in this way, you are providing security to your children or grandchildren while also protecting the benefits their disability entitles them to.
  4. Plan for Your Digital Legacy – Don’t Forget Your Digital Assets
    • In today’s world, most of us have some type of online presence. When creating an estate plan, you will also want to consider how your digital assets will be handled after you pass away. Without a plan, digital assets may get lost in the Internet ether and not pass to your loved ones after your death due to the simple fact that their existence is unknown. Create a list with your accounts and passwords and your wishes for those accounts after your passing so that your Executor can follow through on those goals. Likely your passwords will change multiple times before your death, so create a Word document or Google Doc with all your information, print it out and keep with your will. The benefit of this document is that you can change it easily and just reprint.
    • Digital assets that you may own include the following:
      • Social media accounts (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)
      • Financial accounts at brick-and-mortar and online institutions
      • Business documents and other files stored in the cloud
      • Cryptocurrency
      • NFTs
      • Databases
      • Device backups
      • Internet domain names and uniform resource locators (URLs)
      • Streaming service accounts (e.g., Netflix, Peacock, Hulu)
      • Merchant accounts (e.g., Amazon, Etsy, eBay)
      • Gaming tokens
      • Virtual avatars
      • Points-based loyalty programs (e.g., for groceries, gas stations, airlines, and hotels)
      • Rights to intellectual property, artwork, and literature
      • Online betting accounts
      • Monetized video content
  5. Don’t procrastinate, plan your estate!
    • Procrastination is the biggest enemy of estate planning. No one likes to think about dying but improper or no planning at all can lead to family disputes, assets getting into the wrong hands, long court litigation, and excess money paid in estate taxes. So, you should start planning sooner rather than later!

Contact Long & Long’s estate planning attorneys to help create your custom estate plan. Call us at 724.834.9300 or fill out this contact form to get started today.

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