Estate Planning 101: Getting Started

Estate Planning 101: Getting Started

Everyone who has anyone who depends on them financially or in any other way needs to make estate planning a priority. It’s just 3 documents but it’s hard actually to get the paperwork in order. What’s the hold up? Frankly, it’s hard for people to think through a scenario where you pass away. If you are married and have kids you’ll be thinking about a situation where one parent is continuing alone. It’s really difficult to think through but it is so important, because if that tragedy happens it’s so much better if you’ve planned and prepared. You don’t estate plan for yourself. You do it for your family. Watch this video to see where to start:

Will or Trust

In most cases a will is fine, but an attorney can help you figure out if you need a trust. If you have children, an important part of this is figuring out who will have custody of them. Who do you want to be the one to wake them up in the morning? Who do you want consoling them after losing a baseball game? You don’t have to get permission from the people you name as guardians, but it is a good idea to have that conversation.

The person in charge of the insurance proceeds, who will make all the financial decisions, doesn’t have to be the same person as the guardian. For the executor (also called a personal representative), you should pick someone who is good at handling money, who is organized, and who you trust. The executor will carry out the terms of your will.

Note: It’s easier if the guardian and the executor can get along and communicate well. If you figure this out before you sit down with a lawyer, you’ll save money in the process.

Financial Power of Attorney

If you’re not able to make decisions for yourself, but you’re still alive, the financial power of attorney is important. This person acts as an agent for all your financial transactions – from your bank account to your IRA to your work retirement account. In most cases, people name their spouse. But you also need to name a contingent. This simply needs to be someone you trust not to run away with your checkbook.

Health Care Power of Attorney

This person will make decisions related to your health care when you are not able. You may also want an advance directive where you spell out for doctors and care providers different circumstances and how you would like to be treated. Because you can’t identify every possible scenario, your health care power of attorney is the person who helps make those decisions for you. Most people name their spouse (it can get very confusing for the hospitals if you don’t). You also need to name a contingent. This needs to be someone you’ve talked to about your wishes and who can make those tough calls in situations where other family members might have different ideas about what to do. Being a health care agent is not a privilege. It’s a burden, so you need to equip that person to carry that burden for you.

Getting Started

Need help taking the first step? Here are some estate planning attorneys you can contact to find out more about cost and what you need to get in order before your first meeting:

Barry Fierst
Fierst & Fink
A-200 Monroe Street Suite 200
Rockville, MD 20850
(301) 762-8872


Norman Handler
Handler & Levine
4520 East West Highway #700
Bethesda, Maryland 20814
(301) 961-6464 x3302


Lesley Moss
Oram & Moss
4600 North Park Avenue
Plaza South
Chevy Chase, Maryland 20815
(301) 652-8600


This information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any opinions are those of Traci Richmond, CFP® and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. Raymond James does not provide tax or legal services. Please discuss tax or legal matters with the appropriate professionals. Links are being provided for information purposes only. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse, authorize or sponsor any of the listed websites or their respective sponsors. Raymond James is not responsible for the content of any website or the collection or use of information regarding any website’s users and/or members.