Estate planning is the process of arranging for what will happen to your property when you die. (Whatever you own at your death is called your estate.) It can also include:
Perhaps the most essential reason to make an estate plan is to have a say about who gets your property when you die. A will is the easiest way to do this. If you don’t use a will or some other legal method to transfer your property when you die, state law determines what happens to your possessions. In addition to specifying who will inherit your property, you can also use your will to:
Usually, you cannot use a will to leave certain kinds of assets, including:
A will is not the only way and, in some cases, not the best way to transfer ownership of your property when you die. Especially if you are older and own a fair amount of property, you should consider whether it makes sense to plan now to help your inheritors avoid time-consuming and expensive probate court proceedings after your death. If you have a very large estate, you may also want to think about avoiding federal or state estate tax.
Consider using a living trust if you want your property to avoid probate after you die. Any property that passes through a living trust can be transferred directly to beneficiaries without going through probate court, often saving time and money. But not everyone needs a living trust. Those with simple or small estates may find that the benefits of keeping property out of probate do not justify the hassle of creating a living trust, transferring property and maintaining the trust. And it’s possible that a large amount of your property will pass to your beneficiaries without the need for a trust—for example, your retirement accounts and proceeds from your life insurance. Your decision about whether to make a living trust depends on your personal circumstances and preferences.
In more than half of the Utah residents, you can use a transfer on death (TOD) deed to name a beneficiary for real estate, like your home. The property transfers to your beneficiary when you die, without probate. Before your death, you still own the property, and you can revoke the deed (or make a new one) at any time. Transfer on death deeds provide some of the best features of both wills and living trusts. Like living trusts, TOD deeds keep the property out of probate. Like wills, they are simple to make, revise, and revoke. So for many people, particularly those whose largest asset is their house, transfer on death deeds can replace the need for a living trust. (You’ll still almost certainly need a will.)
It’s a good idea for almost everyone with property or an income to make a durable power of attorney for finances. It’s particularly important, however, if you fear that health problems may make it impossible for you to handle your financial matters. Making a durable financial power of attorney ensures that someone you trust will be on hand to manage the many practical, financial tasks that will arise if you become incapacitated. For example, bills must be paid, bank deposits must be made and someone must handle insurance and benefits paperwork. Many other matters may need attention as well, from property repairs to managing investments or a small business. In most cases, a durable power of attorney for finances is the best way to take care of tasks like these. If you ever need to revoke your power of attorney, use the revocation form that prints with your document. Or, if you want to revoke a previously made power of attorney, you can use the Revocation of Power of Attorney accessible from the All Documents screen.
It’s vitally important that those close to you understand the kind of medical treatment you would or would not—want if you were unable to speak for yourself. You can use a Will Maker health care directive to describe your health care wishes and name a trusted person to oversee them. The person you name can also make other necessary health care decisions for you if you are too ill or injured to direct your own care.
The program helps you prepare documents that are legal in your state. Depending on where you live, you may get a single document (often called an advance health care directive) or two separate documents (typically called a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care). If you ever need to revoke your health care directive, use the revocation form that prints with your document. Or, if you want to revoke a previously made health care directive, you can use the Revocation of Health Care Directive accessible from the All Documents screen.
As you create your estate planning documents, your thoughts may turn to how you want your body to be handled after your death. With our final arrangements document, you can let your loved ones know whether you wish to be buried or cremated, what kind of memorial ceremonies you have in mind and other details related to the final disposition of your body. During a difficult time, this document can provide much needed guidance for your survivors.
With our Information for Caregivers and Survivors form, you can create a comprehensive guide to the details of your life, from information about your bank accounts to people you’d like contacted in the event of your illness or death. When you prepare this form, the program will walk you through the particulars of your life, asking you to provide details on many topics, including things your loved ones may not know—such as the names of your doctors, whether you have life insurance, or how to access your online accounts. The result of this interview will be a document that will greatly aid those who need to care for you or manage your estate.
When working on your estate plan, you may find that you want to explain certain things to your loved ones. For example, you may want to let them know why you left a large gift to charity, why you named your sister (and not your brother) to look after your child’s finances, or where you keep important papers or passwords. Or maybe you simply want to leave some thoughts about your life.
One way to convey these things is to write a letter that will be passed on to your loved ones when you die. The letter can be in any format you like, from a handwritten note to a more formal typed letter.
Will Makers offers a number of documents that you can use if you are named as someone’s executor—and you can let your own executor know that these forms are available on your computer when they’re needed.
An executor, called a personal representative in some states, is the person you name in your will to handle your affairs after you die. Your executor will pay your debts and taxes and then distribute your property to your beneficiaries, as your will directs. If someone dies without naming an executor, a court will appoint someone to take the job.
If you have been named the executor of an estate, you’ll want to know what kind of tasks you are expected to perform. The Executor’s Checklist is a good introduction. Of course, every estate (and state) is different. An executor’s tasks depend on the size of the estate, the kinds of property the deceased person owned and other factors, such as the needs and expectations of the family. State laws governing the administration of estates also vary.
As the executor or administrator of someone’s estate, your tasks include locating and making an inventory of all of the deceased person’s property. One category of property you must investigate is bank and other financial accounts held by the deceased. You can use this form to write to financial institutions to find out what accounts or loans the deceased had with that institution, as well as to learn what those accounts were worth at the time of death.
An Affidavit of Domicile (sometimes called an Affidavit of Residence) is one of the documents used by an executor to transfer ownership of stock or other securities from the name of the deceased person to the new owner. The purpose of the Affidavit of Domicile is to establish the state of residence of the stockholder (in this case, the deceased person).
An executor must contact each of the deceased person’s former employers to find out whether the estate or survivors are entitled to any death benefits. You can use the Employee Death Benefits Letter to request the information you need.
Use this form to notify each of the deceased person’s creditors of the death and to close the deceased person’s credit accounts.
An executor may want to notify businesses and organizations of the death. For example, you might want to notify charities to which the deceased person made regular donations. You can use this letter to inform anyone who might need to know of the death.
Ascent Law Attorney provide a range of forms you can use to take care of your loved ones, pets and property. For example, there are authorizations you can use to give someone else permission to take care of your child and agreements you can complete to arrange for pet care. Here’s some information about each of the forms for your home and family.
If you want to hire someone to care for your children in your home, you should prepare a child care agreement. Ascent Law Attorney allows you to spell out the exact responsibilities of the position and to specify the child care provider’s hours, amount and schedule of payment, benefits and other important aspects of the job.
Use this form to provide important information for babysitters and child care providers, such as names and phone numbers of doctors and emergency contacts and instructions about meals, naps and other details of your child’s care.
Creating a medical care authorization allows another adult to authorize necessary medical or dental treatment if your child is injured or becomes ill while not with you—for example, while playing on a sports team or staying with a babysitter.
If your young child will be traveling outside the Utah with another adult, you should prepare an authorization for international travel. The form provides necessary proof that you have consented to the travel.
If you leave your child in the care of another adult for a few days, weeks or months, you should authorize the caretaker to make any necessary decisions about your child’s medical, educational and other care. You can do this by preparing a temporary guardianship authorization.
Finally, we offer some forms to help you with basic financial matters. There are forms to use if you need to borrow or lend money, a few other useful documents—such as a power of attorney you can use to have someone take care of a specific financial transaction if you’re unavailable. Here’s a little more information about each form.
Use this form to record the terms of the sale of an item of personal property, such as a car, computer or guitar. When you sell an item with a written bill of sale, you reduce the chance of a dispute arising after the sale.
A limited power of attorney for finances lets you appoint someone (called your “attorney-in-fact”) to help you with one or more clearly defined tasks involving your finances or property. For example, you may want to name someone to monitor certain investments for you while you are on vacation and sell them if necessary. Or you may need someone to sign business or legal papers for you while you are unavailable. This form lets you temporarily delegate authority to someone you trust.
If you’ve made a power of attorney, you can change your mind and cancel it at any time. Use this notice of revocation to put an end to any power of attorney, including a durable power of attorney (one that is designed to remain in effect even after you become incapacitated).
If you are borrowing or lending money, you should create a promissory note. Like an IOU, a promissory note records the terms of the loan, including the period of repayment and the interest rate (if interest will be charged), as well as the borrower’s promise to pay back the loan.
The promissory note you make with an attorney offers a choice of three payment plans.