Estate planning is not just for the rich or older people. It’s for anyone who wants to make life easier for those they leave behind or those who must take care of them in the event that they are unable to care for themselves. In addition, proper planning can reduce or eliminate court and probate costs, taxes, and delays in processing your requests.
Here is a checklist of six common documents to prepare and items to review:
- Prepare a will. At a minimum, your will should include any special requests regarding your final arrangements, a list of your assets and who you want them to go to, and the names of the individuals you want to be the guardians of any minor children. Be sure to follow the rules mandated by your state so that your will can withstand any challenges.
- Prepare a living will. This document tells your doctors exactly what kind of care you do and do not want to receive if you’re terminally ill and/or incapacitated.
- Prepare a durable power of attorney for health care and your finances. This document names the person who will make medical and financial decisions for you in case you are unable to do so.
- Review the ownership of your assets. What type of assets do you have and how are they titled? There are three basic ways that you can own property: in your individual name, in joint names with others, and through contract rights. Whether or not a particular asset that you own at the time of your death will need to be probated will depend entirely upon how it is titled. So review your assets and determine if they are titled appropriately for your situation. If not, make changes now.
- Review the beneficiaries on your retirement accounts and life insurance policies. Make sure that they list the people that you want them to go to. Unlike many other assets, these will go directly to the named beneficiaries at the time of your death so it is very important to keep these up to date.
- Investigate whether a trust would be beneficial. Trusts are legal arrangements that let you put conditions on how and when your assets will be distributed upon your death. They also allow you to reduce your estate and gift taxes and to distribute assets to your heirs without the cost, delay, and publicity of the probate court, which administers wills. Some trusts even allow for greater protection of your assets from creditors and lawsuits.
Finally, discuss your estate plans with your heirs to help prevent future disputes and confusion. Keep originals of your important papers and instructions in a secure location, like a safety deposit box or leave them with your attorney. And keep a copy in a location that is easily accessible, like a filing cabinet. Then let people you trust, know where to find these documents in case of an emergency. ps!