Q: I have a will that names my personal representative. Is that enough?
A: I assume that when you ask “is that enough,” you are referring to enough estate planning. If that’s the case, my answer is maybe.
To answer your question, we have to ask ourselves, “What is estate planning?” If your definition of estate planning is getting your stuff to your loved ones, then the will is probably enough.
If you add into that definition getting your stuff to your loved ones in the most efficient manner possible, then a will may not be quite enough. If you further add in things that have nothing to do with testamentary intent, then a will is almost certainly not enough.
When I think about estate planning, wills are only a piece of the puzzle. It’s a big piece of the puzzle, but still only one piece.
If you have a will, you have taken the first step in estate planning. Although the will is oftentimes the backbone of an estate plan, additional things may be able to supplement it. For example, using payable on death (POD), transfer on death (TOD) and beneficiary designations on assets may be a way to more efficiently address your testamentary goals.
If your will states that your three children will receive the home, you may be able to use a TOD deed to make the transfer of title more convenient. The same thing applies if you want to make sure that a bank or investment account goes to someone in particular. These sorts or designations supplement a will. They don’t necessarily replace the need for a will but they can make the after-death transfer of assets a little faster and easier.
If you take a wider view of estate planning, like I do, then you should have things in place to help out during your lifetime as well as after your death. I’m a huge proponent of powers of attorney. I think nearly everyone that can have one, should have one. When my eldest son turned 18 last year, I prepared one for him and the kids healthy as a horse.
Advanced medical directives such as living wills are another thing that I think should be a part of a complete estate plan. I’m not sure about you, but I want a say in my end of life decisions. Advanced medical directives offer you that opportunity to set out your wishes. It also relieves your loved ones of having to make the decision for you.
I suppose the answer to your question is wills are a great start but they shouldn’t be the end of your planning. Sit down with your attorney and discuss your goals and let the attorney come up with a complete estate plan for you. Everyone should at least have a will and most everyone should have something more.