A Personal Approach To Resolving Your Estate Planning & Litigation Concerns

Estate Planning: Building Your Team


Binaey Soje-Diyan Associate Attorney

After putting it off for weeks, months, or maybe even years you have finally decided, you need an estate plan. You have a general idea that an estate plan consists of a will, potentially a trust, a health care power of attorney, and a financial power of attorney. However, your overarching goal is to ensure that your wishes are followed in the event of your incapacity or death. In order to effectuate this goal, it is clear that you need a team. In this article, we will discuss the key roles that will work together to create and implement your legacy wishes.

Estate Planning Attorney

An estate planning attorney works with clients to develop a plan for accomplishing their end of life goals. When choosing an estate planning attorney, it is important to choose an attorney who is knowledgeable and experienced in the area of estate and trust law. Solomon Dwiggins Freer & Steadman, Ltd. is a boutique law firm that focuses on complex estate and trust matters. Our estate planning attorneys take a detail-oriented approach to the estate planning process in order to meet our clients’ individual needs such as: minimizing estate tax liability, avoiding probate (as much as possible), or protecting assets from creditors.

Financial Advisor

A financial advisor, especially for high net worth clients, plays an important role in estate planning. A financial advisor works with clients to determine their income sources, investment portfolio, retirement accounts, and insurance coverage and often collaborates with a client’s estate planning attorney to ensure that an estate plan is implemented effectively.

Personal Representative

A personal representative is an individual responsible for administering a decedent’s estate. The responsibilities of a personal representative may include: collecting and preserving the assets of the decedent, paying the estate’s expenses, preparing the estate’s tax returns, and distributing assets pursuant to the decedent’s will. When choosing a personal representative it is a good idea to choose someone who is:

  • Responsible
  • Organized
  • Reliable
  • Trustworthy

Guardian for Minor Child(ren)

A guardian is an appointed individual who has the legal authority to make decisions regarding the minor child’s protection, education, and care. If you have minor children, it is important to determine who will care for your children in the event of your death. When choosing a legal guardian for your minor children it is a good idea to consider the following:

  • How many minor children do you have?
  • Do you want all of your minor children to reside together?
  • How old is your chosen guardian?
  • Where does your chosen guardian reside?
  • Do your minor children have any special needs?
  • What are the family dynamics of your chosen guardian?
  • Does your chosen guardian share your views on religion, education, and discipline?
  • Have you had a candid conversation with the chosen guardian, are they willing to accept the designation?

Successor Trustee

A successor trustee takes over management of the trust if you are unable to do so because of incapacity or death. Depending on the language of the trust, a successor trustee may be responsible for distributing the assets of the trust to your beneficiaries upon your death or alternatively may continue to administer the trust for one or more generations. People commonly choose a family member to serve as successor trustee and a successor trustee may be the primary beneficiary of the trust. A successor trustee may also be a professional trustee such as a bank, trust company, or similar financial institution. When choosing a successor trustee for your trust it is a good idea to consider the following:

  • Do you trust the individual?
  • Will the individual respect your wishes?
  • Is the individual competent to handle financial matters?
  • Does the individual have the time to serve as successor trustee?
  • Is the individual interested in serving as successor trustee?
  • Does it make sense to name multiple co-trustees?

Health Care Agent/Attorney-in-fact

A health care agent is a nominated individual responsible for making health care decisions on your behalf if you are incapable of making those decisions for yourself. A health care agent may also be responsible for communicating with medical staff and communicating with family regarding health care decisions. When choosing a health care agent it is a good idea to choose someone who:

  • You trust absolutely
  • Will listen and respect your values, goals, and wishes regarding treatment
  • Can handle conflicting opinions between family, friends, and health care providers
  • Has some understanding of medical processes

Financial Agent/Attorney-in-fact

A financial agent is a nominated individual with authority to manage your financial affairs. A financial agent may be tasked with paying your bills, managing your investments, managing your property, and handling transactions with financial institutions. When choosing a financial agent it is a good idea to choose someone who is:

  • Trustworthy
  • Organized
  • Responsible
  • Knowledgeable and understands their role

Finally, the work is not done after you have made your initial selections. It is important to update your estate plan every three to five years to account for life changes such as marriage, divorce, aging parents, adult children, etc. to ensure your estate plan is consistent with your wishes and you have the right individuals designated as part of your team.