Keeping it simple: Estate and family planning
by Ashley Costello on Nov 4, 2019
Estate and family planning are the most crucial topics in a financial plan and are unfortunately often overlooked. I recently discovered that more than half of my friends and family have not thought about their wishes for their family, named beneficiaries on their financial accounts or have basic estate legal documents such as a will, power of attorney, living will and medical power of attorney.
The No. 1 goal for having an estate plan is so your loved ones can avoid probate court. Navigating through the probate process can be overwhelming, confusing and costly if an estate plan has not been established. Set aside the time now to make a plan to guide them when you are gone.
Here are a few basic steps for putting together an effective estate plan:
- BRAINSTORM FIRST: Think about you and your family. Have there been any recent changes to your finances or family, such as marriage, divorce, death, birth, adoption, recent inheritance or changes in family spending? Do you want your beneficiaries to inherit immediately and equally if there are more than one? If not, are there any specific instructions or wishes for your beneficiaries? Are there minors to whom you want to leave an inheritance? A trust is another document you should consider ensuring specific instructions and/or an inheritance are carried out per your wishes.
- LIST THE “PLAYERS”: Now that you have thought about your wishes, who are you naming to help execute your estate plan? Consider who you want to name as executor and successors for your will, agents to list as power of attorney and medical power of attorney, and a trustee or successor trustees if you choose to have a trust prepared. The players for each of these documents do not have to be the same person -- there may be a family member or close friend who is better suited to handle your finances rather than medical and vice versa. Choose the people who you trust and believe would act in your best interest.
- SEE AN ESTATE PLANNING ATTORNEY: Once you have brainstormed your plan and named the players, you are well prepared to see an attorney. Legal language can be foreign -- be sure to ask a lot of questions and fully understand your plan. Confirm that your attorney understands your wishes and that they are accurately reflected in the documents that he or she drafts. Before finalizing the documents, ask your attorney to put them in a flow chart. A flow chart helps to outline the players, beneficiaries, wishes and any special instructions you may have included.
- PUT YOUR ESTATE PLAN INTO MOTION: If you decide to draft a trust, your attorney will most likely provide instructions for funding the trust and how to name beneficiaries for any assets. If a trust is not applicable in your situation, you will need to make sure that your beneficiaries are updated with the respective financial institutions to reflect who you would like to inherit specific assets and the value. It is good practice to check your beneficiary designations with the institutions on a yearly basis to ensure the information is current and accurate.
- KEEP DOCUMENTS HANDY: Store your estate planning documents in an easily accessible location and consider a water and fireproof safe. There also are digital options with an online storage solution, such as SecureSafe. You also may elect to give copies to the players you chose to act on your behalf so they have them in the event of an emergency. Be proactive and have a meeting with your family and/or the players to discuss your wishes, document locations and contact information for all necessary parties. There is no need to include dollar amounts for financial assets if you are uncomfortable sharing the information at this point.
- THINGS CHANGE AND LIFE HAPPENS: As your life changes throughout the years due to various events and circumstances, your assets, beneficiaries, etc. will likely change too. It is important to review all estate planning documents periodically and make updates or edits as necessary.
Beneficiaries listed on your assets will supersede what is listed in your will or estate planning documents, so it is imperative that your beneficiary designations with the financial institutions are updated as needed to align with your wishes!
An estate plan can be as simple or detailed as you choose -- it is your unique and individual plan. The goal is to ease the process of dealing with your estate and assets for your loved ones when the time comes. These basic steps will help you get your estate plan started and provide some peace of mind.