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2. Execute a will. Your will is the cornerstone of your estate plan. Name an alternate for every beneficiary. If you have a young family, plan for the possibility of a common disaster by designating contingent beneficiaries beyond your spouse and children.
3. A trust is a must if you have young beneficiaries. Many young people in their twenties have difficulty managing even modest inheritances. Consider a trust for every beneficiary under the age of 25 or even older, depending upon the maturity of the beneficiary and the amount of the expected inheritance. Choose a trustee, and an alternate, who will exercise good judgment, and give the person full discretion to distribute the income and principal as needed. Leave the trustee a letter of instruction about your goals for your children or young beneficiaries and any other relevant information, such as your choice of advisors.
4. Nominate a guardian if you have minor children. Name the spouse first, and two alternates who are willing and able to parent your children until they reach eighteen. The guardian can, but need not be, the trustee.
5. Nominate an executor and an alternate. Your executor will make funeral and burial or cremation arrangements before your will is probated. Make sure the person is aware of your wishes. The executer will marshal and value your assets, pay your bills, distribute your estate according to your wishes, and fully account to your beneficiaries. It is an important and demanding job. Choose wisely. In the event of conflict or lack of suitable family members or friends, consider an institutional trustee or personal attorney.
6. Review life insurance and retirement assets. Many young lawyers, and their spouses, are underinsured. Consider additional coverage. Your bar association may provide economical group- term insurance. Conform the beneficiary designations to your overall estate plan. If you have a trust in your will for your children, do not name them as beneficiary; name the trustee under your will instead. Retirement accounts are often overlooked, even though they are likely to be your largest asset besides your home. Review and revise the beneficiary of your retirement assets as required, and make it a priority to set aside the maximum allowed in your retirement fund each year.
7. Review and update. Your will “speaks as of the date of death.” Review and update your plan as needed every three to five years or around life-changing events, such as marriage, retirement, relocation out of state, a birth, or the death of a loved one.
8. Power of attorney and healthcare directives. Incapacity is three times more likely to occur than premature death. The three major right-to-die cases, Quinlan, Cruzan, and Schiavo, involved young women. Name your spouse and at least two alternates on a power of attorney, often the same persons you named as executor. Leave the original with your lawyer for safekeeping. Make multiple copies of your healthcare directives and “paper the world” by distributing them to family and healthcare providers.