You know you should do it. You may have been putting it off for years. Where do you begin? What is the first step?
The problem with planning your estate is its not a “fun” topic. Do you really want to think about your ultimate demise? Yet by spending a little time today with the necesarry paperwork, you can be secure in the knowledge that you and your family can avoid many headaches down the road.
1. Writing a will is easy
While you’ve probably put estate planning aside thinking it would be a difficult process. It doesn’t have to be. Many lawyers specialize in estate planning and can walk you quickly through the process. You can even purchase a do it yourself kit or book and list out who will inherit what. The important thing is to start the process.
2. Make changes along the way
Creating a Will and Trust is important, but don’t forget to review your will after life-changing events. New jobs, marriages, divorce, birth and death can all change the outcome of your will.
3. Choose an estate administrator carefully
They will carry out your final wishes, so make sure you trust them with the responsibility. You can change your estate administrator if the person relocated, your feelings change, or they simply don’t want to have that kind of responsibility.
4. Make sure you have beneficiaries
Much of your property – retirement accounts, life insurance proceeds, real estate, cars – may not pass through your will. Make sure you document who will inherit each item and list out beneficiaries in detail.
5. It is your decision
Don’t feel the need to consult family, spouses or friends with your personal wishes. These are your alone. You have the right to leave your belongings to anyone you wish. Just make sure you include their names so its clear they weren’t overlooked in the process.
6. Taxes may not apply
A common misconception is you will lose a great majority of your estate to taxes. That’s not necessarily true. If you are clear in your wishes and have the right paperwork filed, it can easily pass from you to your next of kin. Talk with your lawyer.
7. Be specific
You may have promised your doll collection to your daughter. But that may not stop the fight if it isn’t specifically listed in your will. While it may seem counter intuitive to list things in detail, remember the more you can do now, the less confrontation there will be in the future.
8. Own a business?
A large percentage of Americans own a small business. What will happen to it? Make sure you list out your wishes, especially if you want it to be carried on by a family member.
9. Plan for everything
A will isn’t enough. What about a living will? What about power of attorney? Think out the process completely so you will be covered in every circumstance.
10. Don’t forget the obvious
Its easy to tuck away a file into your desk, or “forget” to list bank and retirement accounts. Yet none of it will matter if your loved ones can’t find them. Keep everything in a secure place and let trusted family members know where to look.