Why Do Maine Residents Need an Estate Plan?
For many Maine residents, creating an estate plan is a task that gets pushed to the bottom of the to-do pile. After all, we live in Vacationland and would much prefer living our lives than thinking about how we will handle our demise. There is also a big misconception that having an estate plan is only meant for the wealthy.
The truth is that everyone has an estate and people they care about. And an estate plan is a valuable tool that outlines the maintenance, management, and distribution of your assets to those loved ones when you pass away or become incapacitated.
Some of the most common benefits of having an estate plan in Maine include the following:
- Being able to define your medical directives if you become incapacitated clearly
- Allowing you to choose who inherits your assets
- It helps protect your family, including young children
- It prevents your heirs from overpaying on Maine taxes
- It could help to keep your assets out of Maine probate
Depending on your circumstances, there are dozens of additional benefits to developing an estate plan, so you can see why they are essential.
But how do you create an estate plan? What documents do you need to draft? And where do you start?
To help answer these questions, we’ve defined an eight-step process below. Of course, if you ever have any questions, you can contact us, and we’ll be happy to help you navigate the estate planning maze.
Developing Your Maine Estate Plan
Below is a list of steps you should take when developing your estate plan in Maine. You should note creating an estate plan is more than just a one-person job. There are times when you should consult with experts such as an attorney, accountant, or certified financial planner (CFP) to help you manage this plan.
Other individuals you will want to consider and consult with as part of this process include a guardian, power of attorney, and a trustee.
As you assemble your team, they can help you identify and define each of the following steps.
Step 1. Set Your Estate Plan Goals
Like the development of any plan, you will want to take some time to determine what you wish to accomplish by creating your estate plan. Before you begin, please look at your life’s big picture and all those you share it with. Then, think about what goals you want to address.
A few estate planning goals include:
- Ensuring financial support for your family
- Choosing the beneficiaries of your estate
- Naming guardians for any dependants and having a financial plan for their support
- Dictating the future management of a business
- Leaving your assets to a charity
- Requesting specific funeral arrangements, senior care, or health care preferences
- Specifying your preferences in the case of a medical emergency or incapacitation
Now, it’s possible that your plan could include many, if not all, of these goals. The important thing here is to make sure you identify and address the goals that are most relevant to you.
Ideally, it would be best to understand your goals before creating key documents such as your last will, power of attorney (POA), or a trust
Step 2. Get Your Financial House in Order
Depending on how organized you are, you can either work independently or hire a financial professional, like a Certified Financial Planner (CFP), to help you document and compile a list of your debt and your tangible and intangible assets.
By identifying how much you owe in debt, you will be able to determine the total amount of assets you can distribute for loved ones as part of your estate plan.
When analyzing debt, make sure you review the following:
- Credit card balances
- Student loans
- Vehicle loans
- Home equity lines of credit
When reviewing tangible assets, make sure you include material things, such as:
- Houses and other real estate investments
- Vehicles (e.g., boats, cars, and motorcycles)
- Personal valuables (e.g., books, jewelry, tools, and household furnishings)
- Collectibles (e.g., art, coins, stamps, trading cards, and antiques)
Intangible assets include non-material things that you can’t touch or hold, such as:
- Bonds, stocks, and mutual funds
- Checking and saving accounts
- Retirement plans
- Life insurance
- Businesses owned
Step 3. Create a Last Will and Testament
Your Last Will and Testament is the document with the most authority in your estate plan as it allows you to control and communicate how to distribute your assets after you pass away. It is also the document that a probate court will use to settle your estate.
When drafting your Last Will, you should consider working closely with an attorney as you will need to appoint an executor of your Last Will and a guardian if you have any children under the age of 18 years old. The attorney can also help you document how you wish to assign your assets to your beneficiaries.
If you have high-valued property or a significant amount of assets, you might want to consider establishing a trust. We will talk about the benefits of this option a little later in Step 6.
Understanding the Role of the Executor
Choosing the right executor for your Last Will is crucial because they bear a lot of responsibility on your behalf.
As the executor of your Last Will, they are responsible for ensuring your requests or terms are carried out precisely as you wish.
The executor of your Last Will is also responsible for:
- Distributing your property and assets to your beneficiaries
- Arranging for debt repayment
- Recovering money from other parties who owe you
- Filing necessary forms, including your final tax return
- Acting on behalf of your business interests
- Arranging for the correct parties to receive any charitable donations or gifts
Your executor should be someone you can trust, who is responsible, and willing to act as your personal representative. The executor’s role is often a spouse, friend, or relative.
Step 4. Establish a Power of Attorney (POA)
Establishing a Power of Attorney (POA) helps you with important matters while you’re alive or if you become ill or incapacitated. By creating a Power of Attorney (POA) document you are legally allowing one or more people (called an attorney-in-fact) the authority to make financial or medical decisions on your behalf.
Many estate plans in Maine include two POAs that are effective even if you become incapacitated.
These two POAs are commonly known as:
- A financial POA: This designation allows allows someone to handle your financial or business matters, and
- A health care POA: This person is allowed to make medical decisions on your behalf. (In Maine, this POA is combined with a living will, which lays out your wishes for medical treatment, and the combined document is called an “advance health care directive.”)
In most estate plans, these POAs are considered “durable” POAs, which means that they retain their effectiveness even after you’re incapacitated.
When choosing a POA, you should seek out a person you trust who is of sound mind and body as they will, if called upon, be required to make important decisions on your behalf.
Step 5. Write A Living Will
Your estate plan can and should do more than provide instructions on how to disburse your financial assets when you pass away. A comprehensive estate plan can also include a Living Will.
A Living Will guides your loved ones and medical professionals on your preferences for end-of-life medical intervention in case you become incapacitated and can’t communicate for yourself.
Most Living Wills provide instructions on how to handle:
- Life-prolonging treatments, such as blood transfusions, medications, and surgery
- Artificial life support and ventilators
- Pain relief management
- Administration of food and water (including tube feeding)
- Do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders
A Living Will can be as specific as you like, denote your religious preferences, and outline any plans for organ donation.
Your attorney can help you draft a Living Will alongside the rest of your estate plan.
When completed, send a copy to your primary care physician to ensure that your living will is easily accessible and becomes part of your medical record.
Step 6. Build a Trust
Building a trust is no longer for the uber wealthy. Yes, an estate plan that includes a trust will cost more, but it also gives you greater control over your assets than a will.
Why Should Your Estate Plan Include a Trust?
When you rely on the will you wrote, your intent is to leave assets to a specific person such as your daughter, brother, friend or favorite charity. The problem is a will is probated, and once it enters the courts it can be a long, expensive process that offers no guarantee that your wishes will be followed.
By using a trust, you can avoid many of these risks and ensure that the right assets are going to be received by the right people in less time, and with less headache.
In fact, establishing a trust can also help:
- Potentially reduce the taxes owed by your estate and heirs
- Protect your assets from creditors and lawsuits
- Put conditions on how and when your assets are distributed
Understanding the Three Types of Trusts
Trusts can either be testamentary (created after your death) or living (created while you’re alive). Living trusts can either be revocable or irrevocable. Here’s how each works:
Testamentary trust: Testamentary trusts are set up in a will and go into effect after your death. The trust becomes the owner of any assets that pass to it in your will.
Revocable living trust: These are set up during your life and have the most flexibility. After you create the trust, you have the option to change what’s in it, who manages it, and who the beneficiaries are.
Irrevocable living trust: This type of trust is also set up during your life and is usually used to reduce the amount of assets subject to estate tax.* Once you’ve established and funded it, generally it can’t be changed.
By adding a trust to your estate plan, your options become greater and more individualized. When considering a trust you should seek the advice of your estate planning attorney to make sure this recommendation is right for you.
Step 7. Organize and Store Your Important Documents in a Safe Place
Organizing and storing all of your documents in a central location, like a safe deposit box, helps ensure the execution of your estate to go more smoothly when the time comes. As part of this step, you should gather copies of all the important documents that you may need for your estate plan and keep them in a safe location that can only be accessed by the people you trust managing your estate.
Important documents may include:
- Marriage, divorce, and separation documents
- Adoption and birth certificates for children
- Property deeds and titles
- Business and investment share certificates
- Bank account information
- Social media account information
- Having these documents alongside your estate planning documents can assist with proving ownership or relationship changes in the event of a dispute.
By laying out clear and legally sound estate plans and having all relevant documentation, you can help to make the process easier and less stressful for your loved ones.
Step 8. Review & Update Your Estate Plan As Needed
Life moves pretty quickly, so it is important to review and update your estate plan, or specific documents in your plan, if you experience any major life changes.
These sudden life changes may include, but are not limited to:
- Getting married
- Getting divorced or separated
- A representative’s death
- A beneficiary’s death
- Purchasing any significant assets (such as a car or house)
- Losing or acquiring debt
- Having or adopting children
Outside of any major life changes, you should expect to revisit and evaluate your estate plan every 3 to 5 years to ensure it remains current.
We know that taking the time to develop an estate plan can be overwhelming, but it is vitally important to those you love. If you want to move forward, but still aren’t sure how, give us a call or email us to schedule a consultation.