This article is tricky, as every person’s estate is different. “Prioritizing assets” is usually a term used in an emergency situation, when someone does not have an estate plan and the clock is ticking. So, currently, with COVID-19 being the huge threat that it is, estate planning has taken on an emergency function for many people.
Which asset should you protect first? This article will give suggestions as to what you should prioritize. The list runs from “most important” to “less important,” but it is all relative. At the end of the day, it is up to you to decide. Contact an estate planning attorney to determine how your particular estate plan should look.
Most Important: Living Assistance, Healthcare Decisions, POA
Most people will need long-term living assistance once they get older. You may not know this, but Medicare does not pay for living assistance, such as a nursing home or assisted living. Medicaid does pay for this assistance, but many people are rightfully concerned about the quality of care they will receive if they use Medicaid.
Setting aside a sufficient fund (even if you have to liquidate property to do so) for your living assistance is a top priority. You deserve to have a good retirement, and that includes the portion of your life where you require assisted living.
A healthcare directive allows you to delineate medical decisions before they happen. This document contains your wishes for your medical care, and doctors and nurses will abide by it. A healthcare directive is a useful document to have if you are unable to communicate these wishes (such as a Do Not Resuscitate order) yourself.
POA stands for “Power of Attorney.” A power of attorney is a document that grants someone the authority to make financial, medical, business, and/or legal decisions on your behalf. The person who you designate as POA in the legal document should be someone you trust to be level-headed and make decisions that would mirror what you would want.
Moderately Important: Business Succession, Trusts
This is definitely in the “most important” section for people who own a business, but for people who don’t own a business, it is not relevant, so business succession planning evens out somewhere in the middle.
If you own one of the 30.2 million small businesses in America, it is vitally important that you have a succession plan in place if you pass away. Who will get your business? Do you want your business liquidated or sold? Perhaps you want it to merge with another company, based on a pre-arranged agreement. It is never too early to plan for a business succession.
A trust is a legal document that sets up an immediate asset transfer. You, the donor, transfer title to an asset to a trustee. The trustee acts as a third-party representative until such a time as he or she transfers his or her legal title to a beneficiary. The beneficiary is the person you want to end up with the property after you die.
This type of document avoids probate court. It goes into effect immediately, so, in an emergency, a trust is not a bad tool to look into.
Relatively Less Important: Gifts, Last Will and Testament, Miscellaneous Transfers
When you’re thinking of the less-important transfers, gifts would likely qualify. Once you have everything else settled, deciding who gets what gift from your estate can become your main priority.
Last Will and Testament
Many of the courts are closed for another month until COVID-19 passes, so a last will and testament will not be probated for a long time. This document, which specifies where you want your property to go after you die, is not ideal in an emergency.
Small transfers (such as a favorite painting or other, non-essential item) likely can occupy the back-burner for now until more pressing matters are taken care of.
If you’re reading this article and questioning the order of the list, that is perfectly valid. Only you understand your estate situation, and everyone’s property is different. What is important to one person may be unimportant to another. Consult with a lawyer to create an estate plan that is right for you and your loved ones.