The reason to have an estate plan is two-fold: to protect yourself, while you are living and to protect those you love, after you have passed. If you have an estate plan, your wishes for the distribution of your assets are more likely to be carried out, tax liabilities can be minimized and your loved ones will not be faced with an extended and expensive process of settling your estate.
Here are some action items to consider, when putting your estate plan in place:
If you have an estate plan but aren’t really sure what’s in it, it’s time to get those questions answered. Make sure that you understand everything. Don’t be intimidated by the legal language: ask questions and keep asking until you fully understand the documents.
If you have not reviewed your estate plan in three or four years, it’s time for a review. There have been new tax laws that may have changed the outcomes from your estate plan. Anytime there is a big change in the law or in your life, it’s time for a review. Triggering events include births, deaths, marriages, and divorces, purchases of a home or a business or a major change in financial status, good or bad.
If you don’t have an estate plan, stop postponing and make an appointment with an estate planning attorney, as soon as possible.
Your estate plan should include advance directives, including a Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Surrogate, and a Living Will. You may not be capable of executing these documents during a health emergency and having them in place will make it possible for those you name to make decisions on your behalf.
Anyone who is over the age of 18, needs to have these same documents in place. Parents do not have a legal right to make any decisions or obtain medical information about their children, once they celebrate their 18th birthday.
Make a list of your trusted professionals: your estate planning attorney, CPA, financial advisor, your insurance agent and anyone else your executor will need to contact.
Tell your family where this list is located. Don’t ask them to go on a scavenger hunt, while they are grieving your loss.
List all your assets. You should include where they are located, account numbers, contact phone numbers, etc. Tell your family that this list exists and where to find it.
If you have assets with primary beneficiaries, make sure that they also have contingent beneficiaries.
If you have assets from a first marriage and remarry, be smart and have a prenuptial agreement drafted that aligns with a new estate plan.
If you have children and assets from a first marriage and want to make sure that they continue to be your heirs, work with an estate planning attorney to determine the best way to make this happen. You may need a will, or you may simply need to have your children become the primary beneficiaries on certain accounts. A trust may be needed. Your estate planning attorney will know the best strategy for your situation.
If you own a business, make sure you have a plan for what will happen to that business, if you become incapacitated or die unexpectedly. Who will run the business, who will own it and should it be sold? Consider what you’d like to happen for long-standing employees and clients.
Smart women make plans for themselves and their loved ones. An estate planning attorney will be able to help you navigate through an estate plan. Remember that an estate plan needs upkeep on a regular basis.