Six Tips to Remember When Planning Your Estate
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- by Susan Friedland |
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Planning your estate is a chore that usually gets put off because people don’t like to talk about “the end.” People who fail to put their financial matters in line jeopardize leaving their heirs with some problems mixed among the memories. No matter how old, or young, you are, here are some thoughts to keep in mind with it comes to estate planning.
Make a Will
Many people procrastinate and never get around to actually creating a will. While a will-in-a-box, or one done online, is better than nothing, it’s usually not enough. A well-structured will, put together by an estate planning attorney, could be some of the best money you’ve ever spent. A legal and valid will can protect your heirs from the headaches associated with the probate process and ambiguity found in poorly written testaments.
Support Your Will With Associated Agreements
Depending on your estate, supporting documents could include a trust, lasting financial and medical powers of attorney and a living will. You may already realize there is a difference between a living will and a medical power of attorney. A living will lets your wishes be known should you be faced with life-prolonging medical decisions. Usually called a medical directive, it will let your heirs — and medical staff — know if you desire to have any heroic measures carried out if you approach death. A medical power of attorney gives another person the authority to make medical decisions for you — including end-of-life decisions.
Who’s Your Beneficiary
Do you know who the recipient of your IRA is? Or your 401(k)? What about that annuity and life insurance policy you’ve had tucked away? If your answer starts with something like, “MMmm….I believe it’s…” then it’s time to check the paperwork and make sure you know who the assignee is. When it comes to many financial instruments, most people don’t realize that beneficiary appointees normally take priority over gifts made in wills and living trusts. If you named a child, now estranged from you, as the beneficiary of your insurance policy, they will receive the benefit when you die — regardless of what the will says.
Time can have a way of changing our decisions when it comes to beneficiaries. Most estate planners suggest you review your documents every twenty-four months.
Some states allow you to conduct transfer-on-death designations. A procedure which protects against probate, TOD designations can transfer the ownership of securities, and sometimes real property, immediately upon your death to the person indicated.
Create Asset/Debt Lists
This one probably sounds like too much work. It doesn’t have to be. You will probably want to provide your heirs with a financial roadmap — listing assets and liabilities — they can follow. Knowing some of the details of your estate can be helpful to them in future planning after you’re gone.
One list should explain your real property and personal property assets. Listing any real estate you own, along with it’s worth, it should also list personal property items in your home, garage, backyard or storage unit.
Another list should enumerate your bank and brokerage accounts, any retirement accounts you have along with other forms of investment or insurance policies.
The third list should cover your credit card debts, mortgage debts and any other consumer loans which are still outstanding.
Let your heirs know the causes and charities that are the most important to you. If you’ve ever seen the phrase, “In lieu of flowers, donations…” Maybe you’d like to suggest donations to a specific non-profit when you die. Jot down the associations you belong to and the organizations you support.
Talk With a Professional
Do-it-yourself estate planning is not recommended, especially if your estate is complicated enough to cause financial, legal and emotional issues for your heirs. Many people feel they don’t need an estate planner because their assets are under a certain dollar amount. Keep in mind that financial considerations aren’t the only reason for an estate planner to get involved.
You might not be a millionaire, but if you own a business, have a blended family or kids with special needs, these can all be excellent reasons to seek out an estate planning attorney today.