Many people often use the term “estate plan” and “will” or “living trust” interchangeably, but they are, in fact, different concepts.
A last will and testament and a living trust are similar legal documents that include instructions for distributing assets and naming executors or trustees to carry out those duties. A will is different in that it also names a guardian for underage children and is activated only upon the death of the author. A living trust is activated the moment it is legally created, and the trustee is authorized to distribute the assets before or after death to the beneficiaries as per the rules and directions of the trust.
An estate plan, however, is a comprehensive plan spelled out through several documents. The collective purpose of these documents is to dictate the governorship and care of the three P’s during and after your life:
1. Your people (i.e. your surviving family) 2. Your person (i.e. your health) 3. Your possessions
So, while a will and/or a living trust can be part of an estate plan, the estate plan as a whole includes a variety of other components.
An estate plan is the equivalent of the overall game plan a coach develops for a ballgame. In that game plan you have offensive strategies about how your team will maintain control of the ball and score points. You will have defensive schemes to prevent your opponent from scoring. You may also have specific tactics about what players to use and when, what plays to run in certain situations, and when to use timeouts to regroup and adjust your game plan.
Similarly, in an estate plan you’ll have “offensive” strategies offering detailed instructions about how you're going to score the type of health care you want (or don't want) if you're unable to speak for yourself. You’ll also have “defensive” plans that prevent the wrong people from taking or controlling your possessions after you have died. Your documents will also dictate the different roles that your teammates (family, friends, etc.) will play in carrying out your offensive and defensive schemes.
While all of these definitions can seem overwhelming, please don’t let it discourage you from getting your affairs in order. Investing a little time and money now can and will save the family that remains behind after a death a tremendous amount of angst and money later.
If you need further assistance or guidance, contact Prepare Your Affairs at email@example.com.
If you don’t have a last will and testament or living trust, use the following steps as a guide to create one:
Take Inventory - List your meaningful assets, property, and possessions. Not every piece of jewelry, clothing, or furniture needs to be noted; only those items for which you care who the next owner will be after you pass away.
Decide on an executor/trustee (including backups) – Consider the trustworthy people in your life who will carry out your wishes and talk to them about being your executor and/or trustee.
Choose guardians for underage children – Decide who you’d like to care for you children in the event you and the other parent of your children die at the same time. Talk to those families about taking on this responsibility.
Talk to an attorney – Unless your needs are simple and using an online will or living trust template is enough to cover your situation, contact an attorney about helping you draft the appropriate legal documents. If you’ve done your homework and go prepared, you can keep the attorney fees down.
If you don’t have an estate plan, see an attorney to assist you with compiling a good plan for your situation.
Corey and Katie entered widowhood in 2016 after losing spouses to cancer. They met and connected in a widow/widower support group and later married. One of the principles they learned from their own experiences and those of other surviving spouses is that the more prepared a surviving spouse is on a financial, legal, emotional, and practical level, the better they will adjust to widowhood. They will maintain their independence and control of their assets and be freer to properly grieve and move forward in life. Conversely, those who are not prepared are more likely to have their lives flipped upside down. They may need to move and uproot kids because they can't afford the mortgage, rely on family or other charities to financially support them, and/or change jobs to allow them to better serve as a single parent. We hope to share what we've learned and help other families properly get their affairs in order and be prepared with confidence, peace of mind, and in control of their assets.