When something is tailored to one’s needs, everything can go smoother.
The same can be said about estate planning, according to Carol Ann Fey, of counsel at Artz, Dewhirst & Wheeler in Columbus, and Mary Eileen Vitale, principal at HW & Co. CPAs & Advisors in Beachwood.
“The reason (to personalize your estate plan) is to make sure assets are taken care of properly and they end up going where you want them going forward,” Vitale said. “So, you want to make sure the parameters get assets transferred correctly. For example, if a beneficiary has special needs that need to be taken care of, you want to make sure your documents do that. Generic documents don’t typically take care of that. Even if you have ‘regular circumstances,’ everyone’s ‘regular’ is going to be different and you don’t know how that will affect how assets transfer.”
Fey said the state has a statutory distribution plan for property and money held by a person at his or her death, explaining that is a general backup plan that may not “well address the needs and desires of a particular client.” For example, the plan only distributes to specific relatives, whereas most of her clients have specific desires that would not be achieved by the state’s plan.
“Further, in the absence of a specific estate plan, it is up to the probate court to determine who will administer the probate of an estate and distribution of property, and without a named executor, the court will likely appoint a local attorney to handle that,” she stated. “An appointed attorney will not know the family or the interests of the decedent, and cannot very well take into account the needs of the various people entitled to share in the property of the deceased.”
Although there are many do-it-yourself estate planning templates online that might look like they get the job done, there is no way to know if those overly general plans will cover what is needed.
“It may sound cliche, but estate plans are not all the same because individuals, their goals and their families are all different,” Fey noted. “Many online or DIY estate plans may not be tailored to the state where the client resides, and there are too many factors or nuances in our family structures to make such a plan predictably reliable.”
Estate planning templates may not account for the specific trustees or beneficiaries you want and may revert to someone you don’t even want to benefit from your death.
“You may have specific powers you want to give to trustees in certain circumstances and you might have specific thoughts, and in generic plans, you might only have a few options to choose from,” Vitale explained. “But plans made for you will encompass those needs and direct whatever specific powers you want beneficiaries and trustees to have. With a generic document, you’re not necessarily going to meet your specific wishes.”
When creating an estate plan unique to your situation, keep an eye on the type of assets you’re looking to leave behind.
“What those are will determine what you do,” Vitale said. “Who are the beneficiaries? Charities? Family? A mix? It needs to be complex and tailored in that situation. Everyone is going to have different answers to these questions and it is amazing that way. Some people may have legal heirs but they might not want to leave anything to them. So, it’s not so simple to use general documents if you have someone you’re purposely disinheriting for whatever reason.”
And determining how and when you want assets to be distributed is another thing to consider entirely, Fey noted.
“Some clients prefer to make bequests outright, and others may want a partner or spouse to, for example, remain in the marital real estate for a period of time, even for life, but not own the property, with the property to be distributed at a later date,” she said. “None of those things are accomplished in a DIY plan and are certainly not a part of the picture under the state’s statute of descent and distribution.”