Have you every wondered how estate planning might fit into your overall, future plans? Even if you are just starting to build your estate and do not need complex estate planning, here’s a quick look at some steps you should consider taking immediately in order to protect your family and to reduce potential expenses in the event of your death.
- Draft a Will. A formal, legal document directing the settlement of your estate provides for the distributions of your assets according to your wishes. Without a will, the laws of your state will determine estate distribution. Qualified, experienced legal assistance and proper witnessing should always be sought. Only through a will can you designate your own executor, guardians for minor children, and other fiduciaries. A living trust funded with specific assets can allow those assets to pass to your heirs outside of probate. It may be a smart step to take in addition to drawing up your will.
- Title Assets Properly. Unless you live in a community property state, where disposition of assets falls under community property laws, the simplest and least expensive estate planning technique for married couples is to take title to assets as “joint tenants with rights of survivorship.” At the death of one joint owner, such titled property automatically passes to the survivor without having to go through probate. However, there are other forms of titling that may be appropriate depending on circumstances.
- Review Your Life Insurance Plan. Life insurance has long been recognized as a relatively inexpensive method for ensuring a surviving spouse will meet key, financial obligations without delay. Regular reviews can help ensure you have adequate protection, and your plan is up-to-date.
- Plan for the Unexpected. First, analyze your disability insurance coverage. Second, consider granting a durable power of attorney for financial matters, and a living will and health care proxy for health matters. These advance directives enable the designated individual (usually your spouse, a relative, or close friend) to make important decisions on your behalf should you be mentally or physically unable to do so.
- Keep Your Family Informed. Many families subscribe to a limited “need to know” policy between parents and children, especially while children are growing up. However, at some point, all family members should gain some awareness of financial, medical, and estate arrangements that can affect the entire family.
These are a few of the initiatives you can take now to start managing your estate. While larger estates may have different concerns than smaller ones, the key is to recognize that planning is the issue, not size!