The winter holidays are fast approaching, which means it will soon be time to see our loved ones. As we grow older, these gatherings may be one of only a few times per year where the whole family gets to spend quality time together. For families with adult children and older parents, the holidays and estate planning go well together. This time of year is an ideal time to discuss planning for the family's future. The Law Office of Aubrey Carew Sizer PLLC is prepared to help families get all of their assets and finances sorted: contact us today at (571) 403-2619 to learn more about estate planning and how to handle these discussions during the holidays.
Establishing an Estate Plan: What to Consider
For families that do not already have an estate plan, it may be difficult to know where to get started. There are several key considerations that should be discussed when estate planning for the first time. Knowing what to address can help you better prepare for the future.
Reviewing a Last Will and Testament (Will)
In most families, the parents have a will by the time they are married, if not sooner. Regardless of age, a will is a necessity for anyone who is married, has children, or a positive net worth. But writing a will is not the end of the process, as everyone should regularly review their will and make any necessary changes. Some common life events that require changes to a will include:
- Birth of children or grandchildren
- Death of close family members
- Moving to an assisted living facility
- Buying a home or other major assets
- Losing assets previously listed in the will
- Changes in local or federal laws and tax codes
To make sure a will is up to date, it is best to conduct a thorough review at least every 3-5 years, if not more often.
Does the Estate Plan Need a Trust?
For many families, a will is not sufficient for fully protecting the family's assets. For family members that are home for the holidays and consider estate planning together, now is a good time to determine if the family could benefit from a trust. Trusts offer numerous benefits that are not found in wills, including:
- Unlike a will, a trust is not bound by the state probate court process, which can be expensive and time-consuming.
- Assets in a trust are less exposed to estate taxes.
- Trusts offer more control over the distribution of assets
- A will only goes into effect after death, but the conditions of a trust become active as soon as the document is finalized.
Revocable Trusts vs. Irrevocable Trusts
Revocable trusts are the most commonly used in estate planning, but the other option, an irrevocable trust, is also common. Sometimes referred to as a living trust, a revocable trust has terms that can be changed at any time. Irrevocable trusts cannot be modified after they are finalized unless the beneficiaries of the trust give permission. The estate planning lawyers at The Law Office of Aubrey Carew Sizer PLLC are prepared to review your family's circumstances and help you determine whether a revocable or irrevocable trust suits your needs.
Who Will Be the Beneficiaries and Trustees?
Beneficiaries are the family members who will receive the assets listed in a will. Trustees, on the other hand, are responsible for controlling and distributing the assets of a trust. When estate planning for the first time, it is important to consider everyone you want to receive assets when the plan is executed. Types of beneficiaries commonly added to estate plans include spouses, children, grandchildren, other family members, friends, and charities.
How to Choose a Trustee
A trustee acts as the legal owner of the trust and has three main responsibilities:
- Administration of the trust
- Investment of the trust's assets
- Distributing benefits of the trust to beneficiaries
Choosing a reliable trustee is vital, as this individual or organization will need to exercise good judgment in ensuring the estate is handled responsibly. Some families choose a family member as an individual trustee, while others go with a lawyer or corporate entity that specializes in these matters.
How Often Should an Estate Plan Be Reviewed?
Families that already have estate plans should consider reviewing their estate plans during the holiday season. An estate plan is one of the most important legal documents in life, so making sure it is up to date is critical. Generally, it is recommended to review an estate plan at least once every 3-5 years. However, an annual review is best to account for any major life changes or relevant changes in laws or tax codes.
It is usually best to review an estate plan with guidance from the lawyer who helped create the plan. A thorough review of an estate plan should cover the following areas:
- Identify major life changes that could affect the estate plan, such as marriage, divorce, deaths, births, loss or gain of assets, etc.
- Determine if any changes in beneficiaries are necessary. For example, the birth of a grandchild could warrant adding that grandchild as a beneficiary. Beneficiaries who have passed away should be removed from the estate plan.
- If state laws have changed since drafting the estate plan, consider whether any changes are necessary.
- Consider how changes in federal tax laws could affect the estate plan and whether the plan needs to be updated to account for these changes.
Consider Seeking Legal Advice from an Estate Planning Lawyer
If your family is home for the holidays and estate planning, you may feel overwhelmed. Whether you are creating your estate plan for the first time or updating an existing one, this is a complicated process that must take several personal, financial, and legal considerations into account. It is crucial to ensure that your family's assets are fully maximized and that the beneficiaries can easily access their funds when the estate is executed. For many families, this process is best handled with assistance from an experienced estate planning lawyer. Contact The Law Office of Aubrey Carew Sizer at (571) 403-2619 to learn more about your family's options for estate planning in Virginia.