How to Begin Estate Planning

How to Begin Estate Planning

Wednesday, 24 June 2020 15:25

While it is difficult to find one thing on which most of us can agree, we do know that no one wants to start the process of estate planning. It is not comfortable to contemplate one’s own mortality, and it is tempting to delay these matters. It can also be intimidating. Where do you start? What do you do? What if you don’t have a “large” estate or massive wealth?

Here’s the reality: estate planning brings tremendous peace of mind. It is not so much about planning for the end - but planning to live your best life and not carry the worry of your affairs on your shoulders. 


How do you begin estate planning?

Make a Will. 

Take the plunge, and write up your will. This document will detail who you want to inherit property and assets. If you have young children, you can name a guardian if something happens to you and to your children’s other parent. You may also give this person the power to manage any financial assets or property on behalf of your children until they are of age.

A will is one way that you can make sure your wishes are honored, whether you want to provide for family and/or leave assets to charity. 

If you do not have a will and die intestate, these decisions will be made by a court. This can cause a great deal of tension and discord, not to mention legal hassles for survivors. It is best to guard against this - and ensure that your assets are distributed according to your desires.

Establish a Living Trust. 

A living trust puts your investments, bank accounts, valuable property, and real estate into a secure trust. You can draw on these funds for expenses like retirement homes and medical care. Upon your death, the trust explains how you want your assets to be distributed.

Make Plans for Healthcare. 

If you are not able to make decisions regarding your healthcare, your medical directives take over. This can include decisions regarding resuscitation and other imperatives. You can also assign a power of attorney (POA) for healthcare; this designee can make healthcare decisions on your behalf, in accordance with your wishes. 

Assign a Durable Power of Attorney. 

Here, you assign a trusted individual with the authority to make financial decisions on your behalf, if you are unable to do so on your own. 

*It is important to understand the difference between a power of attorney and a durable power of attorney. A general POA ends when you become incapacitated. A durable POA stays in effect until either you are well enough to be able to make informed decisions or you are deceased. This is an important distinction when you are planning for end-of-life decisions.

Name Beneficiaries. 

Make sure your beneficiaries for bank, retirement, and/or investment accounts and other financial assets are up to date and that the accounts are “payable on death.” This means that the beneficiaries can forgo the probate process.

Get Your Life Insurance In Order. 

Life insurance can be essential for your survivors, whether it means they can provide for themselves in your absence, pay for funeral expenses, or deal with estate taxes. If you do not have a policy, look into it as soon as possible.

Plan for Funeral Expenses. 

You can prepay for your funeral, but you also may want to look into an account that is payable upon death. You may do this through your bank, and deposit funds to cover funeral expenses. This may be more reliable. 

Make Sure Your POA or Next-of-Kin Knows Your Wishes. 

Communicate your wishes to this trusted person, verbally, and in writing. These wishes may include organ donation, burial vs. cremation, place of interment, etc..

Get Your Documents In Order. 

To make matters easier and more clear-cut for your next of kin or executor, keep the following documents in a file and ensure they are secure:

  • Will
  • Trusts
  • Information on Power of Attorney
  • Insurance Policies
  • Statements/Info on credit cards, mortgages, loans, unpaid taxes, etc.
  • Real estate deeds
  • Stocks, bonds, and annuities certificates
  • Retirement plan information
  • Funeral instructions and prepayment or related financial plans

In today’s day and age, it doesn’t hurt to include a secure file containing your passwords for financial accounts, guardianship documents, and other essential information. 

Do not think about estate planning as preparing for the end. Rather, it is preparing to live today (and tomorrow) without the burden of the unknown on your shoulders. Many people find it to be an exceptional relief. 

Our team has extensive experience in estate planning. We recognize that it is not a task you want to tackle - but it is one that can relieve a great deal of stress and allow you to take the next steps in your life with confidence. Contact the Law Firm of Robert P. Laney today to begin your estate planning process.