Whether you’re affluent or someone of more modest means, if you’ve worked hard and saved, and if you’re an adult in Iowa, it’s time to consider planning your estate with the advice and guidance of a Cedar Rapids estate planning attorney.

What matters should an estate plan address? What is the goal of proper estate planning? Why is an estate planning attorney’s help so critical? If you’ll continue reading this brief discussion of the estate planning process in Iowa, these questions will be answered.

The first thing to know is that planning an estate isn’t only for the wealthy. If you have savings or own property, by preparing an estate plan, you can make sure that your assets and properties are handled according to your wishes at the time of your death or if you become incapacitated.

The next thing to know is that there’s no one-size-fits-all estate plan. The particulars of your own estate plan will hinge on your financial, family, and personal circumstances.

Why Is an Attorney’s Advice Essential for Estate Planning?

Whatever those circumstances are, the next thing you should know is that the right estate planning lawyer will prepare a plan for your estate that provides for your loved ones, meets your needs, protects your assets, and ensures that your instructions are followed when the time comes.

Why do you need to work with an Iowa estate planning lawyer when the internet offers estate planning “kits” and blank “do-it-yourself” forms for wills and trusts?

Your estate planning attorney will provide helpful insights that you might not consider on your own and may know about options that are just right for you. He or she also knows what kinds of disputes and difficulties can emerge over estates that have not been properly planned.

What Constitutes an Effective Estate Plan?

Every plan will be different, but most estate plans in Iowa will include:

  1. a will or a trust
  2. a letter of intent
  3. a durable power of attorney and a healthcare power of attorney
  4. beneficiary and guardianship designations

A will or a trust is the central element of most estate plans. Every adult should have at least a will. It’s the document which assures you that your assets and properties will be divided and transferred to your heirs according to your instructions.

A trust can protect your beneficiaries from probate costs and estate taxes when they inherit your assets and properties. Whether you prepare a will or a trust, it must be carefully worded to ensure that it effectively meets your goals, so have an attorney draft the will or trust on your behalf.

After looking over your assets, properties, liabilities, and your present financial situation, your lawyer will recommend a last will and testament or a particular kind of trust – whatever works best for you personally – and your lawyer will ensure that your will or trust is compliant with Iowa law.

What is a Letter of Intent?

A letter of intent for your will’s executor or a particular heir explains what should be done when you die or if you become incapacitated. It can indicate what should be done with specific assets and leave instructions for funeral arrangements.

Letters of intent are not legally enforceable, but if a dispute arises after your death, a letter of intent can be used by a probate court judge to determine your intentions, and should your will be invalidated, your letter of intent can express how your assets are to be divided and transferred.

Durable and Medical Powers of Attorney

Because anyone could be abruptly and accidentally disabled or incapacitated, anyone in Iowa who’s at least 18 should prepare a durable power of attorney. A durable power of attorney gives someone you designate (your “agent”) the legal authority to act on your behalf when you can’t.

The document lets your agent conduct real estate transactions and make legal and financial decisions for you. If you don’t have a durable power of attorney, what happens to your estate could be determined by a court, and those choices might not be the choices you would make.

Without your durable power of attorney, it’s possible that your family members might not be able to accomplish something as simple as paying your bills or cashing your checks.

A medical power of attorney gives someone you designate (usually your spouse or another family member) the authority to make medical choices for you if you are incapacitated. The document addresses concerns and questions about end-of-life medical treatment and care.

Beneficiary and Guardianship Designations

Life insurance policies and financial accounts can transfer to your beneficiaries without their inclusion in a trust or a will. However, if you don’t name beneficiaries, a court could decide what happens to your life insurance and financial accounts.

If you’re a parent and your child is a minor, the importance of naming a guardian cannot be stated too strongly. A guardian should be stable, financially responsible, and willing to assume the role. Without a guardianship designation, a judge could decide who raises your child.

The right Cedar Rapids estate planning attorney will make sure that your guardianship designation and your beneficiary designations are specific and up-to-date.

What Should Your Estate Plan Accomplish?

Your estate plan should advance the best interests of your loved ones and declare your wishes and desires for them after you’re gone. Try to prepare a plan that doesn’t generate needless controversy and contention.

Once your estate plan has been established, you can modify and update your plan whenever it’s necessary. Something like divorce, remarriage, a new child, a new job, or even a change in the tax laws could require you to update your plan.

When Should You Start Planning Your Estate?

Don’t wait to begin the estate planning process. Should you wait, you could find yourself making hasty choices in a stressful situation. A trust or a will that’s prepared in haste could put your assets at risk or trigger a lengthy, acrimonious legal dispute among your loved ones.

Now – while it’s obvious that you’re acting voluntarily and your mind is sound – is the time to start planning your estate. If you’re not ready to begin and you need to learn more, a lawyer can answer your questions about estate planning.

There’s no reason to wait. You can schedule your first consultation with an Iowa estate planning lawyer by making the call now.