Estate planning during an unpredictable year

Wealth managers and estate planners encourage their clients to prepare for the unexpected, and one word synonymous with 2020 is unpredictable. With recent market volatility, the upcoming general election, and the impact of the pandemic, planning for your future is more important than ever.

Simply stated, an estate plan is a strategy, combined with legal documents, that identifies how an individual or family wishes to pass on their wealth and possessions. Estate plans also include documents that grant authority and guidance for health care decisions should you become ill or incapacitated, as well as direct who would care for your children should both parents pass when they are minors. Working with a professional will help you minimize your estate taxes, simplify the transition of ownership, avoid probate, provide guidance should you become incapacitated, ease family tension, and confirm your wishes are carried out.

Estate planning is not just for middle-aged people and the wealthy. We’ve unfortunately witnessed the current pandemic affect people of all ages. Moreover, wealth managers can help families of modest means ensure they are adequately preparing for retirement and have sufficient life insurance should something tragic happen to the breadwinner.

Attorneys and wealth managers encourage clients to review their estate plans every three to five years, and especially after a life transition. Life transitions may include marriage, having additional children, children with special needs, children entering college, career interruptions, relocation to or owning property in another state, unexpected family illnesses, divorce, or retirement, among others. This year, countless families have been impacted by the ripple effect of the coronavirus pandemic, many of whom have experienced an unexpected life transition.

One of the lessons that we can learn from the pandemic is that life is unpredictable. 2020 has been a gentle reminder that it’s important to have a plan should you or your family’s circumstances change quickly.

Estate plans are not one-size-fits-all. Not only do you have to make some important decisions about your wealth and property, there are also several important roles you may need to fill including executor or personal representative of your will, trustee, guardian, and power of attorney. The documents that you may need are a living will, will, power of attorney (health care, finance, durable), trust, life insurance, and advanced directives. Planning for the future requires you to make decisions about your wealth, possessions, and your preferences for medical care should you become unable to make decisions for yourself.

The coronavirus pandemic has increased the conversation about incapacity. Individuals on ventilators may be deemed incapacitated and both financial and medical decisions will need to be made on their behalf. It’s very important that you speak with your family and local health care provider to discuss what end-of-life measures you are comfortable with and document them appropriately with an advanced directives form to ensure your desires are upheld in the event of an emergency.

Everyone needs a plan for their wealth, possessions, health care, and children. If it has been a while since you have reviewed your estate plan, if your family has recently experienced a life transition, or if you do not currently have an estate plan, SVA Financial Group can help. Change is constant and the SVA Financial Group team has the experience you need.

Beth Jacobsen is trust officer for SVA Trust Company.

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