The rule is simple: If you own assets of any kind, you should make an estate plan. Estate planning isn’t just for the ultra-wealthy or older generations — it’s a crucial component of your complete financial plan.
In this blog, we’ll share 10 estate planning tips to prepare you and your family for the future.
Why You Need an Estate Plan
An estate plan consists of everything you own, from your car to your home to bank accounts, investments, life insurance, furniture, personal possessions and more. No matter how large or small, everyone has an estate that contains things you cannot take with you when you die. So where do they go?
The estate planning process allows you to manage and preserve your assets during your lifetime. At death, your estate plan allows you to conserve and control the distribution of your assets according to your goals and objectives.
Estate planning strategies will differ for everyone, but here’s what you need to do to start getting your plan in order.
Estate Planning for Dummies: The Basics
Here are 10 estate planning tips to follow as you get all your ducks in a row.
1. Assemble Your Estate Team
Every estate planning team needs an executor and your team of estate planners, which includes a financial advisor, an estate planning attorney and a tax professional.
An executor is someone you appoint to manage your estate, deal with the probate process, pay off outstanding debts, collect your assets, and distribute them to the right people or charities according to your wishes. Most people choose their spouse, partner or another family member, but it’s OK if that isn’t the best fit for your circumstances.
A financial advisor helps you design an estate plan that manages you and your family’s assets during your lifetime and distributes them after your death.
An estate planning attorney will help draw up documents in your plan, like your will, trust, or durable power of attorney, help your executor navigate or avoid probate court and transfer assets to beneficiaries, and more.
A tax professional like an Enrolled Agent or Certified Public Accountant can help you stay in compliance with tax and accounting requirements.
Each of these individuals and your executor will work together to handle any problems that may arise.
2. Take Inventory of Your Estate
The next step is to take inventory of your estate. In probate courts, officials will want to know the “real property" value of any of your real estate. You’ll need copies of each deed, the legal description, and the physical address, and you’ll need to include the fair market value of the property or properties. Real property can include a home, cottage, vacation rental, farmland and business properties.
You’ll also need to determine the fair market value of personal property (tangible possessions). This may include art, recreational vehicles, tools, jewelry, collections, household goods and more. If you’re unsure of the value of any of your possessions, you can enlist the help of an expert.
Don’t forget to also include any bank accounts and retirement accounts.
3. List Liabilities
Next up, make a list of all your liabilities, including mortgages, lines of credit, and other debt. This is a good way to keep your executor aware of any outstanding debts so that your beneficiaries aren’t surprised somewhere down the line.
This free checklist will help you identify everything of value in your estate planning.
4. Determine Beneficiaries
Your beneficiaries are the recipients of your estate plan inventory. Beneficiary designations may include spouses, partners, children, friends, business partners and more.
5. Name Your Personal Representatives
Personal representatives will serve as fiduciaries of the beneficiaries of estates and they have a duty to act in good faith and in the best interests of the estate’s beneficiaries. They also have the authority to make decisions over others.
6. Create Your Estate Documents
Having these documents in order will save you from costly estate planning errors down the road.
- Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA)
- Advanced Medical Directives
- Letter of Instruction
- Living Trust
7. Update Your Accounts
This is a good chance to make sure you log into all your online accounts and make sure they’re performing the way you want. Update passwords, logins, security questions, etc., so that in the event of your death, your executor and beneficiaries are able to access your accounts.
8. Sign Everything
Not to sound alarmist, but make sure you sign and notarize everything as soon as it is ready. Nothing is official without your signature!
9. Write an Estate Memo
Establish an estate memo to help your family properly handle the distribution of your assets. This includes:
- Location of important documents
- Information on bank and investment accounts
- Descriptions of real estate and other property
- Outstanding liabilities
10. Revisit and Update
Keep your inventory list up to date. Kids grow up, major life events happen and situations may change. We recommend revisiting the list every two years and update it as appropriate.
An estate plan will help your loved ones memorialize your plan with your attorney and will ensure that your wishes are carried out in the way you desire.
For additional resources tailored to your specific situation, take our 2-minute financial wellness assessment to access resources focused on the areas of your finances that matter most.
For additional resources tailored to your specific situation, click the link below to take our 2-minute financial wellness assessment to access resources focused on the areas of your finances that matter most.
This material has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be used as investment, tax, legal or accounting advice. All investing involves risk. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Diversification does not ensure a profit or guarantee against a loss. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors.
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