Whether it’s that we don’t want to think about our lives ending, feel that it doesn’t seem necessary, or believe it’s too costly, estate planning is one of those tasks that most of us continually put off. In fact, only 51% of Americans have done any estate planning, (1) which means half the population is leaving their surviving families and assets at huge risk.
Rich or poor, if you don’t create a plan, you will leave your loved ones with legal headaches. Without medical directives, families are left to guess how to handle end-of-life care, which can even result in damaged relationships. Without a will, determining how to divide the assets is often left to impersonal judges. Unnecessary probate and taxes diminish the funds left behind, potentially leaving a heap of final expenses your loved ones will be responsible to pay.
Amid the hustle and bustle of life, it’s difficult enough to take care of day-to-day business, let alone tackle the legal and emotional complexities of estate planning. However, daunting as it may seem, the process of thinking through your estate plan does not need to be complicated or stressful, and the peace of mind it provides is worth it. With that in mind, here are 5 basic steps to get you started on your estate plan.
1. Draft A Will
A will is something that everyone needs in order to spell out their wishes and name someone to handle their financial affairs. Just as each person is unique, each person’s will is unique and will include different requests. That being said, here are a few standard essentials to include:
- Guardianship: If you’re a parent of a young child, this can be one of the most important parts of your will. Be sure to name a legal guardian for your minor children so if you pass away before they are legal adults, they will be cared for by the person of your choice without legal drama.
- Assets: In your will, you’ll define which heir gets what, including percentages of your savings, specific accounts, certain properties, cars, or other valuables and sentimental items.
- Real property: Beyond assets, you may also have homes and buildings that you want to leave to specific people.
Once your will is drafted, it’s critical to keep it up to date. Review it at least every two to three years and whenever you experience a major life event, such as marriage, divorce, death, or birth.
2. Appoint Trustworthy People
Another vital decision to make is who will take care of certain responsibilities when you die. Some opt to have just one person take on all the various roles, while others appoint multiple people to carry out the different tasks. Some states have stipulations on who can serve in these roles, but they are often family members. (2) The primary roles are:
- Executor: This is the person who is legally responsible for carrying out your will. They will ensure that your assets are distributed to your heirs and that your valuable items are given to the people you intended.
- Primary agent: A durable power of attorney is a document that gives someone the legal ability to take care of your financial affairs if you are unable to do so. This person, the primary agent, should be someone who is financially savvy and organized as they will handle any bills or income received and follow your instructions as laid out in the durable power of attorney.
- Healthcare proxy: Similar to a primary agent’s job to make financial decisions on your behalf, a healthcare proxy is someone you appoint to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so. These wishes can be laid out ahead of time in a document called a medical power of attorney.
Be sure to start a conversation with the people you trust most to handle your affairs and let them know that you are including them in these official documents.
3. Consider Trust Funds
Contrary to popular belief, trust funds are not just for the very wealthy. You may want to look into getting one set up for your heirs depending on what you want to accomplish with your assets and the specific needs of your situation. Trusts can be a wise way to ensure the protection of the legacy you’re leaving behind. There are also significant tax benefits in choosing trust funds, as money in trusts bypass probate.
One option you may consider is setting up a living trust, also known as a revocable trust. In the event of your death, this trust ends and is distributed to designated beneficiaries, similar to that of a will, except that the process is quicker and the assets are not taxed. If you’d like to contribute some of your assets to a cause that is close to your heart, another option you may consider is a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT). This not only aids a charity but also provides you immediate tax breaks. (3)
Speak with an estate lawyer to help you determine which option is best for your situation.
4. Organize All Important Documents
To ensure all your estate planning documents are accessible when they’re needed, it’s important to keep them together and well organized. In one safe place, gather all important documents, including:
- Tax returns from the past seven years
- Insurance policies
- 401(k) statements
- Bank account information
- Mortgage paperwork
- Loan documents
- Brokerage statements
- Social Security, health insurance, and Medicare cards
- Contact information for your financial advisor, doctors, lawyer, and accountant
Also, don’t forget to make sure your spouse or closest family member knows where to find this information!
5. Rely On Experts
Many intricate details and time-consuming tasks go into thoroughly and successfully planning an estate, but don’t let that discourage and even prevent you from getting your affairs in order. While it is possible to create wills online nowadays, there are often complex nuances to estate laws and regulations differ from state to state. The good news is, there are professionals available to help!
An estate lawyer can help you sort through the different options and create the best plan for you and your loved ones. In addition, meeting with your financial advisor is something to consider as well, as they play a significant role in your financial life and can provide invaluable assistance in making a plan for your assets, as well as connect you with a reputable estate lawyer.
Ready To Get Started?
Many families feel a greater sense of security knowing they’ve taken the necessary steps to have a plan in place, and it’s never too early to start! At Harbor Wealth Management, our goal is to provide our clients with viable plans they can execute with confidence, so whether you are starting from square one or think it’s time to update your will or other documents, we’d love to help you with your estate planning. Connect with me today by simply clicking this link to schedule a phone call now. Or, if you prefer, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my office at 985-605-7185 today!
About Jeremy Smith
With nearly two decades of experience in the financial services industry, Jeremy Smith serves as a dedicated and knowledgeable financial advisor and the founder of Harbor Wealth Management. He specializes in serving retirees, pre-retirees, small business owners, and widows, providing a comprehensive array of investment management and financial planning services. Jeremy aims to serve his clients as a financial guide who is here for their every need, helping families find lasting plans so they can focus on what matters most to them. To learn more about Jeremy, visit www.myharborwm.com or connect with him on LinkedIn. You can reach Jeremy directly at email@example.com or by calling his office at 985-605-7185.
Securities and advisory services offered through LPL Financial, a registered investment advisor. Member FINRA/SIPC.
The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. You should discuss your specific situation with the appropriate professional.