Planning for one’s assets after death is something most people will have to come to terms with. However, the manner with which one goes about estate planning can distinguish a successful plan from one that doesn’t appropriately serve all its purposes.
Jean M. Cullen, of counsel at Singerman, Mills, Desberg & Kauntz Co., LPA, in Beachwood, and Kimon Karas, principal at McCarthy, Lebit, Crystal & Liffman Co., LPA in Cleveland, said a good estate plan starts with proper planning.
“Estate planning can be an uncomfortable topic, mainly because it involves thinking about death and disability,” Cullen said. “But if you can overcome your natural reluctance to face such issues, there are some things you can do to make the process easier.”
Karas said, “A successful estate plan would serve the deceased’s intended purpose and intentions for their assets. Even if the results upset someone, it still serves the decedent’s purpose.”
Cullen said post-death, the estate’s role is to take care of living family members, but one might want to take extra consideration in certain areas.
“Guardianship is a big issue, so have an idea of that,” she said. “When you have minor children, who do you want to care for them when you’re gone? Have a good idea of what you want and then find reputable counsel. Don’t use the internet as your counsel – use a local one that has some experience and that you’re comfortable with. A good counsel will help guide you through these questions.”
Due to tax law changes, Karas said the definition of a successful estate plan has changed.
“Estate planning in the past was often tax-driven,” he said. “Ohio had an estate tax that is now repealed and the federal credit was much lower than it is today. In the past, people wanted to take advantage of the tax law. Now, for more people, tax isn’t a concern. People can now handle their estates without having to worry about taxes.”
Cullen said the internet hasn’t particularly changed the way people estate plan, but it can help or hurt an estate owner.
“Get professional help,” Cullen said. “It’s fine to use the internet for general estate planning information, but the internet is not a substitute for sitting down with a competent professional. A reputable estate planning attorney can guide you through all the issues and can craft an estate plan that meets all your goals.”
Karas said the internet has created a world of “can-do-its.”
“People think now that since they can Google something they can do it as well as a professional,” he said. “Sometimes when you do it yourself, you end up in a worse state than you would’ve been with a professional.”
Even if an estate plan is done properly, both professionals said revisiting it frequently is important.
“I view estate planning as something that is fluid,” Karas said. “Depending on one’s station in life, family events should push you to revisit, even if you think the (documents) are complete. As you go to the doctor for your yearly physical, you should pull your documents yearly and see if they still serve their purpose.”
Cullen said, “We recommend our clients dust it off every three to four years and see if the plan still meets their intention. As well as any major life event – that should also trigger an alarm within them to revisit the estate plan.
“Just be organized, identify your goals and consult with reputable counsel. There is help out there – use it.”