When you create your Estate Plan, you will have to think very carefully about who you want to serve in several important roles. Once you have given it a lot of thought, talked it over with everyone involved, and settled on your choices, we advise you to also pick at least one alternate for each role. Why is this so important? We explain here.
What Roles Do You Need to Fill in Your Estate Plan?
One of the purposes of an Estate Plan is to lay out instructions for how you want your affairs to be handled if you are unable to communicate your wishes. Whether this means after your death or while you are incapacitated by an illness or injury, the people you name in the plan to carry out your wishes have a big task ahead of them. Key roles in most Estate Plans include:
- Executor. In your Last Will and Testament, you will appoint a person to act as the Executor of the Will. It is this person’s job to carry out the terms of the Will, which include overseeing assets, paying debts, and dividing the estate among the beneficiaries. After filing the Will with the Probate Court, the Executor will handle the day-to-day details of finalizing the Estate. This role requires a great deal of responsibility and should be filled by someone you trust and who is, ideally, not also a beneficiary.
- Trustee. If your assets are held in any type of Trust, the Trustee you named when you created it is responsible for making sure the assets are distributed according to your wishes. The Trustee’s responsibilities could extend for many years. If the Trust stipulates that your children should inherit assets in increments at certain ages, for example, the Trustee could be working for the Trust for a decade or more.
- Powers of Attorney. Every Estate Planning attorney will tell you how important it is that you appoint Powers of Attorney for healthcare and finances, regardless of your age. These people will have the authority to make decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated or unreachable. If you are in a coma, for example, your Healthcare Power of Attorney can work with your doctor to make decisions about your care. A financial Power of Attorney would be able to access your accounts to pay bills and sign certain documents.
- Guardians. If you have children under the age of 18, your Will should appoint a person or multiple people to take custody of your children if you were to die unexpectedly. It is essential that you discuss your plans with the intended guardians before naming them in your Will because taking in someone else’s children is obviously a big commitment.
You will probably feel a huge sense of relief if you are able to name trustworthy people to all of these roles—and they all agree to take on the responsibility if it becomes necessary. However, your job is not quite done at that point.
Why You Should Also Name Alternates
If all goes well, the terms of your Estate Plan will not go into effect for many years. Fortunately, the large majority of people who name guardians for minor children, for example, never need to call upon them to raise their children. Likewise, many Powers of Attorney never have to make decisions for incapacitated friends or family members. However, there is no guarantee that the person you named when you wrote your Estate Plan in your 50s will still be capable when you die in your 80s. Your Executor could:
- Die before you do
- Become too elderly to fulfill the role
- Develop an illness that makes it impossible for them to fulfill the role
- Divorce and leave the family
- Move out of the country or far from where your assets and beneficiaries are located
By naming an alternate—or even two alternates—in your original Estate Plan, you provide a safety net for your beneficiaries and dependents if something happens to your first choice.
Are You Looking for an Estate Planning Attorney in Texarkana, TX?
If you are looking for estate planning advice, you need to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney as soon as possible. Contact us online or call our Texarkana office directly at 903.223.5653. We also have offices in Tyler, Paris, Longview as well as Magnolia, AR!