One of the best parts about having an estate plan in place is the peace of mind that comes with knowing your family is protected. Having an estate plan can also give you the opportunity to reduce your taxes, lower your financial anxieties, and simplify your life overall.
The estate planning process helps you take stock of your possessions, assets, and debts as well as the emotional value of your legacy, and best of all, it doesn’t have to be a complicated or stressful process.
Here are five steps to follow as you craft your estate plan:
1. Don’t procrastinate
The most important part of estate planning is to get started as soon as possible. The less pressure you feel to make decisions quickly, the better your choices will be, and the more opportunity you’ll have to adjust your plan if necessary.
2. Inventory assets and liabilities
Take stock of everything you own that’s of value including both physical and non-physical property.
This includes homes, real estate, cars, boats, and jewelry as well as stocks, bonds, retirement accounts, insurance, social security information and bank accounts, plus anything else you have of value. You should also take this opportunity to update your beneficiaries.
Next, add up all of your debts and liabilities including mortgages, car loans, student loans, and credit cards. This way, you’ll have a clear picture of the total value of your estate with all of the information organized at your fingertips.
3. Create a trust and will
Wills let you indicate what you want to happen to your assets and who will receive them after you pass on. Wills also allow you to name guardians if you have minor children and an executor who will oversee the distribution of your assets. Of course, these should be people whom you trust completely. Remember though, a will is only effective when you die and must be probated.
Trusts differ from wills in that they allow you to protect yourself and your family from the probate court system. They may be more flexible in managing how certain assets will be distributed. For instance, a condition for distributing assets to a child could be that they have to finish school. Trusts may also reduce your taxable estate so you may end up paying less in taxes overall.
We’ve covered wills and trusts in greater detail on this blog before and we recommend you read this post for more information.
4. Furnish all important documentation to key people
Once all of the documents for your estate plan are in order, make sure that all of the key people in your life know where you keep your originals and copies. This includes your spouse, children, the executor of your estate, or anyone else whom you trust and who would have an interest in your estate plan.
5. Regularly review and update every few years
It’s best to think of your estate plan as a living thing that can evolve rather than being something that’s static and unchanging. Your priorities for your estate can change over time as well as your relationship dynamics with your beneficiaries. Even if your situation hasn’t changed, the laws may have. For these reasons, it’s best to regularly review your estate plan every few years to make sure it always adheres to your desires.
Establishing an estate plan that reflects your wishes for when you pass will empower you with the knowledge that your legacy is secure. You’ll get the most value out of your estate plan when you act with expediency and review your plan periodically.
When you are ready to plan your estate, you should seek the advice of a qualified estate planning attorney. You can learn more about our Estate Planning Attorneys here.
*This article is very general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. Readers with legal questions should consult with an attorney prior to making any legal decisions.