Q: I am a teacher and currently off for summer break. Now that I have time to myself, what should I be thinking about over the summer regarding my estate plan? What about retirement? What actions should I be taking?
A: Summer is the best time to check items off your “to-do” list that get pushed off during the busy school year. You just spent the last ten months teaching and giving everything you have to your students. It is now time to do something for yourself, which will ultimately help you truly enjoy that summer vacation.
First, we always advise our clients that a power of attorney and health care proxy are two of the documents that almost everyone should have in place, regardless of their age or status in life. The power of attorney appoints an agent to act and make financial decisions on your behalf. This document allows your agent to conduct banking transactions, hire professionals (such as an accountant or attorney), and assist in elder law planning should you need this in the future. As a teacher, you know how easy it is to get sick or injured. The health care proxy will appoint an agent to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make those decisions on your own. You can also sign a living will, which memorializes your wishes when it comes to end of life decisions, such as restricting the use of artificial means to keep you alive.
Second, we usually advise signing a last will and testament for all individuals, regardless of whether they are married or single, and whether or not they have children. Your last will and testament gives instructions as to where you want your assets to go, which could include distributions to family members, friends, or charities. This ensures that your assets, no matter how big or small, are being left to those individuals or charities you want to provide for. Without a last will and testament, assets could end up being distributed under the New York State laws of intestacy, which provides for a line of succession as to whom is to inherit your assets after death. The laws of intestacy do not always coincide with your wishes regarding asset distribution, so it important to make sure your estate planning documents accurately reflect your wishes.
Lastly, as a teacher, you may be eligible for certain retirement benefits such as a pension, 403(b), or teacher’s retirement annuity. Understanding these benefits and how they affect your future is extremely important. We therefore advise our clients to speak with a financial adviser to discuss their options and come up with a plan that ensures they are well provided for, both now and during retirement.
Getting started on your estate plan and retirement plan will help reduce the stress that so many teachers face throughout the years. To get the process started, you should contact an estate planning and elder law attorney to set up a consultation and discuss the best option that works for you.
- Michal Lipshitz, Esq. and Nancy Burner, Esq.