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Drafting Your Will: Essential Steps for Creating a Comprehensive Estate Plan

The AARP cites data showing that more than half of U.S. adults have not drafted a will. It is an alarming statistic because every person should have a customized estate plan in place. Estate planning generally starts with a will. It is the foundational estate planning document. At Estate Law Center USA, we work closely with people and families to help them find the best solution for their specific situations. Our estate planning lawyer highlights the steps to take to create a comprehensive estate plan. 

Step #1: Take a Moment to Understand Your Estate Planning Needs and Goals

Estate planning is about a lot more than simply putting some documents in place. It is about preparing your affairs to protect yourself and your family—no matter what tomorrow brings. With this in mind, it is generally best to begin the estate planning journey by reflecting on your specific situation—including your needs and your goals. Among other things, this step of the estate planning process includes: 

  • An honest assessment of your financial landscape; 
  • Identifying tangible and intangible assets; and
  • Considering your preferred beneficiaries. 

By establishing clear objectives now you can simplify your decision-making later. A customized estate plan that is crafted to meet your unique needs can help you ensure that your rights and interests are protected and that your legacy aligns with your values and wishes. 

Step #2: Draft a Comprehensive, Customized Will

Every adult should have a will. Indeed, it is a will that stands as the cornerstone of any estate plan. Your will guides the distribution of your assets according to your desires. As a baseline, your will should name an executor who can manage your estate through the probate process. Beyond that, it should also determine who gets to inherit what. A will can be used to do other things as well, including naming a guardian for a minor child. Given the complexity and nuances involved, a professional advocate can be a tremendous resource. You should consult with an experienced estate planning lawyer. Your attorney will ensure that your will is properly drafted, legally sound and that it actually carries out your wishes. 

Step #3: Consider Other Options to Protect Assets (Trusts)

While a will is a foundational estate planning document, it is not always enough for a comprehensive estate plan. Indeed, a will is not always the most cost-effective, efficient way to pass down your assets. To bolster your estate plan, you may want to consider setting up a trust. A trust is a legal arrangement where one party, known as the trustee, holds and manages assets on behalf of another party, the beneficiary, according to the terms set by the grantor. There are a number of different types of trusts, and they are used to achieve distinct purposes. Whether you opt for a revocable living trust, which offers flexibility during your lifetime, or an irrevocable trust, which can shield assets from creditors and reduce estate taxes, the key is customization. You should tailor your trust(s) to fit your specific objectives. An experienced estate planning attorney can help. 

Step #4: Put a Plan in Place to Take Care of Your Health Care Needs

Health care planning is one of the most important—underrated—aspects of estate planning. Your estate plan should anticipate future healthcare needs and ensure that there is a proper plan in place. Although it can be uncomfortable to think about, the reality is that you may have significant healthcare needs in the future. Many aging people in the United States have at least some period of long-term care needs. Some of the most important estate planning tools for health care include: 

  • Health power of attorney (POA); 
  • Advance health directive (living will); and
  • A financial plan for long-term care costs. 

These documents serve as a voice when you might not be able to speak for yourself—thereby ensuring that your health care preferences are honored. You should regularly review and update these directives to reflect your current wishes and your health care needs. 

Step #5: Protect Yourself from the Risk of Incapacity

Incapacity planning is another often-overlooked—yet still essential—part of a thorough estate plan. Your estate plan should protect you in the event that you are no longer able to manage your own affairs. First and foremost, incapacity planning involves establishing a durable power of attorney (POA). Doing so allows you to appoint a trusted person to manage your financial affairs if you become unable to do so yourself. Unlike a standard POA, a durable POA remains in effect if you lose mental capacity. It is a preemptive measure that can prevent the need for a court-appointed guardian or conservator. 

Why an Estate Planning Lawyer is Such an Important Asset

It is normal to have a ton of questions about the estate planning process. Whether you are starting to develop your estate plan for the first time or you need to review/update an existing estate plan, an experienced attorney can review your situation and help you put the structure in place that most effectively protects your rights and achieves your goals. By providing clarity, preventing disputes among heirs, and ensuring compliance with state/federal laws, an estate planning attorney has the professional expertise that you can rely on. Remember, a one-size-fits-all approach to estate planning is not good enough for you and your family. You need an estate planning lawyer who is prepared to provide truly personalized legal guidance and support. 

Get Help From an Estate Planning Attorney Today

At Estate Law Center USA, we help people find true peace, security, and protection through proactive estate planning. We handle all estate planning matters, from wills to trusts to power of attorney. If you have any questions about drafting a will, our team is here as a resource. Contact us today for your confidential, no-commitment initial consultation. We can help you draft a will and create a more comprehensive estate plan.