Estate planning is important and requires legal help

The Madison County Record Apr. 12, 2009, 5:21am

The untimely death of actress Natasha Richardson in a skiing accident raises questions about what would happen if you or your spouse were to die unexpectedly. Have you planned for the future of your surviving spouse and the children?

Estate plans are legal documents in which you identify the objectives for the management and disposition of property after death and what action would need to be taken so that those objectives can be met.

Before developing an estate plan, however, you should ask yourself a number of questions. These include:

  • Who should receive my money and property when I'm gone? The needs of one's spouse, children and others must be considered. This can be particularly difficult if there are children by prior marriages or a property settlement agreement with a current or former spouse.

  • Is there enough money to provide for my family? Particularly if children are involved, the adequacy of one's life insurance policy should be reviewed.

  • Who will manage the estate? This is especially important if there are handicapped or minor beneficiaries.

    Once you have defined the objectives of your estate plan, legal documents must be prepared to put the plan into effect. A Will should always be part of the plan. Other documents used may include trust agreements, beneficiary designations for life insurance and deferred compensation benefits, powers of attorney for health care and for property, buy-sell agreements and living Wills.

    Hiring a number of professionals, including an attorney, can help in a number of ways. An attorney can help identify and address the complex legal issues involved in drafting with precision and clarity the documents needed to put the plan into effect. Other professionals – accountants, life insurance professionals, trust officers and financial planners – may also assist in this planning.

    In certain instances, bankers, business consultants and farm managers also may be consulted.

    Coordination among the advisors is critical. If a trust company is named as executor or trustee, your attorney will work closely with that company. Coordination of life insurance with your overall estate plan may involve your insurance agent.

    All advisors should remain in contact with the family and review the estate plan from time to time because life events can occur that call for changes to the plan. Furthermore, changes in the laws may necessitate a change in the plan.

    Many attorneys who do estate planning will provide information sheets to be completed in advance of the initial visit. This will not only assist the attorney in properly advising you with the type of estate plan that best suits your needs but will help keep legal fees at a minimum.

    For further information about this and other law-related issues, contact an Illinois State Bar Association member-lawyer in your area or visit

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