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You may write a will as the result of a triggering event such as marriage, a new business, a home purchase, a health scare, or the loss of a loved one. Whatever the reason, your will can provide you and your family with peace of mind and knowledge that your loved ones are provided for. Proactive estate planning helps to avoid family conflicts in times already fraught with difficulties. Let me help and support you as you confront your own mortality.
You may first consider writing your will during your first pregnancy. Parenting is, of course, a lifelong commitment and beginning the process of planning for the future, including your own death, can be daunting. You may use the births of your children as opportunities to ask and answer questions about your family's future. Professional, collaborative guidance may be helpful both to you and to your children.
Once you've written your will, you'll likely want to update it every five years or so. Things change; assets and children grow; estate planning sometimes becomes more complicated.
Your estate planning is the process of deciding what should happen to your assets if you should die or become incapacitated and taking the steps to ensure your decisions can be carried out. Not just for the wealthy any more, having an estate plan is an essential part of responsible legal planning for anyone who wants to provide for loved ones. An estate planning attorney can help you design a plan that works for your circumstances. Here are some of the key steps involved:
1. Create an Inventory of What You Own and What You Owe.
There are many good reasons to compile a comprehensive list of your assets and debts, including account numbers and contact information, as well as names and contact information for your important advisers. Keep the summary in a secure, central location — along with original copies of important documents — and provide a copy of the summary for the executor of your will.
2. Develop a Contingency Plan.
An estate plan allows you to control what would happen to your property and assets if you or your spouse passed away today. It also puts a documented plan in place so that if you became incapacitated, your family could carry on your affairs without court intervention. Collaborative work with a financial adviser may be necessary for complex financial planning. This complex plan would include a strategy for providing income if you were to become disabled and covering potential expenses for caregiving that may be needed at some point.
If you were to die without a valid will, you would become what's called intestate. That means your estate would be settled based on the laws of your state that outline who inherits what. Even worse, without a will, your heirs would likely have no idea what needs to be done, and the assets you've planned to pass on to certain people might go to others.
If asked by an heir, a judge would likely appoint an administrator from your family. The risk remains that the administrator would have to make decisions that wouldn't agree with your wishes or those of your heirs. Her or his options would be limited to those provided by the probate laws.
3. Provide for Children and Dependents.
A primary goal for many estate plans is to protect and provide for loved ones and their future needs. Your estate plan should include provisions for any children, including naming a guardian for children under age 18 and providing for those from a previous marriage that might not be specifically addressed by leaving assets to a current spouse. Your plan would also specifically address the care and income of children or relatives with special needs that must be planned carefully to avoid jeopardizing eligibility for government benefits.
4. Protect Your Assets.
A key component of estate planning involves protecting your assets for heirs and your charitable legacy by minimizing expenses and covering estate taxes while still meeting your goals. Again, collaborative work with a financial adviser may be necessary for complex financial planning. If necessary, your estate plan would include specific strategies for transferring or disposing of unique assets such as a family-owned business, real estate or investment property, or stock in a closely held business. Ensuring future goals can be met is a primary focus of estate planning.
5. Document Your Wishes.
If you want your assets distributed in a certain way to meet financial or personal goals, you need to have legal documentation to ensure those wishes are followed if you die or become incapacitated. This preparation includes designating beneficiaries for your life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and other assets that are in line with your goals. We will also ensure that your material assets, such as automobiles and property, are titled properly. It's important to work with an attorney to be sure you have an updated will distributing your assets, a living will reflecting your end-of-life wishes, as well as powers of attorney for health care and financial matters.
6. Appoint Fiduciaries.
To execute your estate plan you must designate others to act on your behalf if you are unable to do so — as executor of your will, trustee for your trust, legal guardian for your dependents, and personal and financial powers of attorney. You need to be sure your fiduciaries are aware of and agree to their appointments and that they know where to find your original estate planning documents. Your fiduciaries can be family members, personal friends, or hired professionals such as bankers, attorneys, or corporate trustees.
Whether you are just starting out or have accumulated wealth over a lifetime, an up-to-date estate plan helps you minimize the impact of unexpected events on you and your family by preserving, protecting, and managing your assets. Working collaboratively with a financial adviser, we can help you create an estate plan to meet your goals and provide tools and resources to build your legacy that makes an impact well into the future.
The primary benefit of both wills and trusts is to provide a legacy for whomever you want to provide a legacy for. We think of a legacy as the result of your forethought for your beneficiaries, taking actions to meet their needs after the end of your life.
For example, you may want to provide for your grandchildren's college educations.
The first step is to talk with an estate planning attorney. Please use the free consultation button on this page.
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