How to Develop an Estate Plan
If you’re like many people, you think of estate planning as what to do after someone dies or something you’ll address later in life once you build substantial wealth. But in reality, you need to protect your assets and make your intents known no matter how old you are. Even the basic estate planning concepts mentioned in Consumer Reports “How to Create a Bullet-Proof Estate Plan” can help you care for loved ones, leave a legacy, possibly reduce transfer taxes, and avoid inheritance oversights.
If you develop your plan now, you and your loved ones won’t have to worry about it during a time of crisis.
10 Estate Planning Action Steps
- Talk About it—Estate Planning isn’t Only About Money
- Calculate Your Net Worth
- Name Your Beneficiaries
- Create & Sign a Will
- Seek a Durable Power of Attorney
- Organize Your Finances
- Map Out a Disability Plan
- Determine What Happens After You Pass
- Review Your Estate Plan Regularly
- Consult a Professional
Why Should You Develop an Estate Plan?
Many people begin thinking about how to develop an estate plan or seek professional advice on their estate after they see someone else experience significant stress because their loved passed away and didn’t have an estate plan.
Avoiding a mess for your loved ones is one of the top 5 reasons you need an estate plan, according to thebalance.com. Carefully planning ahead helps reduce stress, family fights, and costly probate court proceedings.
An Estate Plan Can Help:
- Ensure a smooth transfer of assets after death
- Reduce income and estate taxes
- Provide for your family
- Protect your assets
- Ensure your business survives after your death
- Support a cause or charity
- Build your legacy
Make it Easier to Plan Your Estate
The Family Inventory Workbook is a handy reference guide for all your important documents. It’s super helpful for planning your estate and completely free.
Estate Planning Isn’t Only About Money
There’s a growing awareness that estate planning is about far more than financial assets. Talk with your loved ones about what matters most. Go beyond money and taxes. Talk openly about special situations such as how you’ll continue to enjoy a shared vacation home, care for a child with special needs, succession of a family business, who will care for pets, or charities and causes you want to support.
An Ethical Will Can Help
Traditional Wills convey what you want your loved ones to have; Ethical Wills convey what you want them to know. It illustrates what’s in your heart so your heirs better understand your values and intent for assets, funeral planning, why you gave someone more than another or even mistakes you made in life.
At Hammond Iles Wealth Advisors, we meet with people on legacy planning to help them create an estate plan they feel good about. We find that Ethical Wills can be part family history, part love letter, and part self-reflective exercise.
You should note that an Ethical Will isn’t a legal document. It’s non-binding but it complements traditional legal estate planning documents.
Calculate Your Net Worth
To effectively plan your estate, you have to know what you own (your assets) and what you owe (your liabilities). You can see a chart for calculating your net worth at thebalance.com, “10 Steps to Creating a Good Estate Plan.”
Create and Sign a Will
A Will enforces how you want your property to pass at the time of your death, and who it goes to. Without a Will, the state decides who gets what when you die. In your Will, you name an executor, a person who pays your final expenses and distributes your assets according to your instructions. If you have children under 18 your Will also dictates who should provide care and guidance for them.
A Will doesn’t include directives for assets registered jointly with another person or assets with beneficiary designations such as annuities, IRA accounts, and life insurance policies.
Name or Update Your Beneficiaries
One major advantage of accounts with beneficiary designations is that they can avoid probate if they’re structured properly. But you should know that if you don’t complete the designations properly (such as naming your estate as the beneficiary) or they’re outdated, your assets could pass to unintended beneficiaries or through probate.
You should periodically review your beneficiary designations with a financial professional, especially whenever you have a life event such as marriage, divorce, job change, children, or acquire new property.
Seek a Durable Power of Attorney
A Durable Power of Attorney is the most basic legal document. If you become mentally or physically disabled, it allows access and management of your assets with the least expense and without court intervention.
Organize Your Finances
Financial planning is an essential part of your estate plan. A financial advisor can help you organize your financial picture and navigate any federal or state laws that could impact your estate plan.
Map Out a Disability Plan
Health Care Directive
Your Health care decisions are an important part of estate planning. Like the Durable Power of Attorney, a health care directive makes sure your wishes are honored regarding your own health care if you are unable to do so.
Your health care representative is your voice when you can’t speak, so choose that person wisely. If you don’t get a health care directive set up, the probate court may have to appoint a conservator to make health care decisions as well as other personal decisions for you.
If you were suddenly unable to support yourself and your family could you maintain your current lifestyle? How long could you pay your mortgage and bills? Disability, long term care, and certain life insurance policies can protect your financial well-being if you become incapacitated due to an illness, injury or disability.
A Living Will is a document that directs medical personnel to withhold or withdraw life support and medical treatments that prolong the dying process. It states your intent and can allow your loved ones to keep a clear conscience if they act on your behalf.
Consult a Professional
When we meet with people to plan their estate, they’re always glad to learn how they can erase their confusion about estate planning. Financial and estate planning professionals can give you solid advice on what to do after someone dies, and how you can protect your assets and plan for your future.
Review Your Estate Plan Regularly
Be sure you periodically review your plan with your financial professional and legal advisor so you’re sure it continues to meet your expectations.
While planning your estate takes time, going through the process can give you peace of mind and show your loved ones how much you care.
Since everyone’s situation is different, you’ll want to carefully select a financial and legal advisor who takes the time to listen and understand your unique challenges and goals so you can get the solutions you’re looking for.