There are many important things people need to know about estate planning and how to avoid the most common mistakes so we reached out to Kirsten Larsen, an expert estate planning attorney, for some expert advice.

 

 

 

1. Can you introduce yourself, your expertise and your job. What are you working on at the moment?

I am a licensed Kansas and Missouri attorney. My law practice has taken many turns since 1996, but three years ago I decided to reopen my own practice and focus primarily on Life & Estate planning, with an eye toward educating ordinary families about the importance of planning ahead before a crisis hits.

2. What are the most important things people need to know about estate planning

That everyone has an “estate” worth protecting. It’s worthwhile to protect yourself in case you’re incapacitated or disabled and can’t act on your own behalf regarding health care or financial decisions. Even if no one is dependent on you or you have few assets to pass on, you deserve to preserve your voice regarding the use of your assets and health care choices. Not only is estate planning an opportunity to preserve your voice, and select your preferred agent, but it also serves as guidance for the person you are trusting to make hard decisions on your behalf. A Life & Estate Plan starts here and grows as your life grows and evolves.

 

 

3. What are the main problems, which people are experiencing with estate planning.

People forget that they don’t know the circumstances under which their death will occur. Many people believe they don’t need estate planning because their spouse will get it all. But what if you and your spouse pass in a common accident? Who will get the estate then? Wouldn’t you like to make it as easy as possible for them and at the same time make sure your assets pass to the right people in the right way? What if you aren’t actually married to your spouse? If you aren’t legally married, then extra care need to be taken to make sure assets pass correctly after death and avoid tax pitfalls. You might also want to make sure you are documenting who has the right to make decisions regarding your medical care. Another scenario where estate planning is beneficial is protecting a special needs person from being disqualified for benefits due to an outright inheritance.

4. What are the most common estate planning mistakes and how to avoid them.

Not having a power of attorney for your child when he or she turns 18. We forget that our “children” are not legally children anymore and certain rights to information and decision making authority expire with that milestone birthday. Under HIPAA you can’t have access to the health care information of another adult unless they have signed a release. At 18 our children are adults and therefore treated no differently than your neighbor. Without a release and a power of attorney, you may have to go to court for a guardianship if your child is hurt and cannot care for him or herself.

Another mistake is forgetting to make a plan for the disposition of property beyond the lifetime of joint owners. For example married couples often hold their property jointly. That makes it easy when the first spouse dies. Without a plan for what happens after the death of the second spouse, chaos can ensue.

5. If you do not have a large estate, why do you need an estate plan?

Even without a large estate you may have minor or dependent children for who you should appoint a guardian. You might have preferences for how the money you leave behind is used or by whom. You might have family heirlooms that have little monetary value but would mean a great deal to a specific person in your family. Your family is special and unique and the disposition of your assets should not be left to a generic statute or a judge who never knew you.

6. What happens if I die without a Will or a Trust?

Without a Will or a Trust your separate, individually owned property will pass either according to a designation such as a beneficiary on an IRA or life insurance policy or a pay on death or transfer on death designation on a deed or account registration. If there is no designation, the property will pass according to the law of intestate succession in your state.

7.Can you just get forms online for your estate planning?

You can get forms online, but as I said earlier, your family is special and unique. Generic fill-in-the-blank forms may not account for the needs of your estate or may not explain the ramifications of certain planning choices. Like many things, estate planning can be done on your own, but a professional may offer a better plan that is more likely to make your planning choices work in the future.

8. How often should you review your documents?

Contact information for important people in your documents should be reviewed and updated annually. The documents themselves should be reviewed and updated every 3-5 years or whenever there is a major change in your life such as a marriage, divorce, birth, death, move or change in financial situation.

9. What is your most useful advice you like to share with our readers

Life & Estate Planning may seem like a burden to be done later, but you don’t know when you and your family may need those documents to be correct and current. It may be a challenging task but the time you invest now will bring you and your family security and peace of mind later.

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