Estate Plans, Trusts & Wills For Seniors - What To Consider

“Make a will!” You know you need to do it. But what does an estate plan, trust or will need to cover? Learn the 12 key must-haves to be ready for action.
Wooden blocks spell out the words estate planning

“Get it in writing.” “Make a Will.” “Get an estate plan.”

You’ve heard the advice. You know you need to do it. But, what does an estate plan, trust or will need to cover? In this post, we’ll explore the 12 key aspects you need to know for making an estate plan, trust, or will.

A Moment of Insight

Suddenly, you realize. It’s time. Often, this moment hits at certain ages, for example: 60 or 65. But for some people, it’s earlier—or later. At this moment, you know you’ve heard the advice to make a will, and now it’s time.

Maybe a dear friend died unexpectedly. Perhaps you’ve just had a death in your family, a grandparent, or parent. You’ve been through the events that followed: legal proceedings, document filings, and will-openings—you know the truth. It’s time for you to get an estate plan.

Let’s look at the key estate planning issues to think about. This can help you prepare your thoughts, even before talking with an estate-planning lawyer.

1. Making a Will

A will is where you state who you want to inherit your property. You also name a guardian to care for young children, should something happen to you and your partner.

2. Considering A Living Trust

Holding property in a living trust can help your survivors avoid going through probate court. This can save headaches, money, and time.

3. Making Health Directives

This usually includes a health care declaration, also known as a living will. It also includes assigning power of attorney for health care. This enables someone to make decisions about your medical care in the event that you can’t. In some states, these are combined into one, called an advance health care directive.

4. Assigning a Financial Power of Attorney

This assigns authority to a trusted person, to handle your finances and property if you become incapacitated and unable to handle your own affairs. This is called ‘power of attorney.’ This person is someone you trust, and does not have to be an attorney.

By answering a few simple questions, and downloading a free Power of Attorney document, you can create a Power of Attorney in a matter of minutes.

An older couple signs documents

5. Protecting Your Children’s Property

You can assign an adult to manage any property or money your minor children may inherit from you. This can be the same or different from the personal guardian named in your will.

6. Filing Beneficiary Forms

You can name a beneficiary for bank accounts, retirement accounts, and most brokerage accounts. This allows the funds to be released and helps your heirs skip the probate process. The account becomes automatically available, as indicated by, “payable on death.” Talking to your estate planner or attorney may help you decide if this is a good move for you.

7. Evaluating Life Insurance

If you owe significant debts, estate taxes, own a house, or have young children—life insurance may be something to consider. Evaluate your options to decide if this would be useful for your situation.

8. Exploring Estate Taxes & Gifts

If your taxable estate is worth more than $11.58 million, the federal government will impose estate tax, for deaths in 2020. Approximately 99.9% of Americans won’t owe federal estate taxes. Assets left to a surviving spouse, who is a U.S. citizen, pass free of estate tax.

Estate taxes also vary from state to state. For example, in Oregon estates worth more than $1 million may owe state estate tax. Property left to a surviving spouse is exempt. The Tax Foundation has a complete listing and charts detailing inheritance tax laws on a state-by-state basis.

In addition, a few states impose a separate tax, inheritance tax, on a deceased person’s property. Six states imposing inheritance tax have included: Iowa, Maryland, New Jersey, Kentucky, Nebraska and Pennsylvania.

This is a good time to also look at the best ways to give gifts to your heirs. There are many issues regarding gifts, and for large items there can be significant tax implications. Talking to your estate planner or tax attorney can be a useful way to determine what’s best for your situation.

A senior couple meets a lawyer helping them prepare their will and trust

9. Taking Charge of Funeral Expenses

You can set up a “payable-on-death” account at your bank to cover funeral and related expenses. Many people prefer this to funeral prepayment plans, which may be unreliable and costly.

10. Clarifying Final Wishes

Express your final choices and wishes. This covers issues such as organ and body donation. It also is a time to clarify your final wishes for what to do with your body, after your death, including burial or cremation. If you have a specific place where you’d like to have a funeral, a burial ceremony, or a place where you’d like to have your ashes scattered—this is the time to express your wishes.

11. Protecting Your Business

Define your succession plan. If you own a business, identify who inherits it. If you co-own a business, clarify a buy-out agreement for future owners.

12. Storing Your Documents

Keeping your documents easily accessible, organized, and up-to-date is a huge help for your survivors. Your executor or agent will need to access your will, trust, insurance policies, real estate documents, stock certificates. Additionally all information on bank accounts, mutual funds, safe deposit boxes, retirement plans, debts, and funeral instructions will need to be easily available.

If you’re ready to make an estate plan, it can be helpful to discuss your options with a lawyer, as well as your accountant or tax-advisor.

Assistance Club Summary

The Big Idea: Making an estate plan provides peace of mind. It helps you know that your wishes are clear and can be easily implemented. With a little planning, your survivors will be able to get the inheritance you’ve worked for—without additional hassle.

If you’ve been putting off making a will, now is a good time to take action.