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Estate Planning Essentials

MP900442488An estate plan starts with a will, but that’s just the beginning. A true estate plan includes addressing issues that occur while we are living, as well as when we have passed. Everyone needs to have these plans in place, regardless of how much or little one owns.

Having an estate plan means that you and your family are prepared not just for death, but also for illness and incapacity. Distribution of your property according to your wishes, is just one part of an estate plan. Minimizing state and federal estate taxes is another. A complete estate plan addresses many legal, financial and health issues.

Investopedia’s recent article, “6 Estate Planning Must-Haves,” provides us with a list of items every estate plan should include:

                      • A will and/or a trust;
                      • Powers of attorney;
                      • Beneficiary designations;
                      • A letter of intent; and
                      • Guardianship designations.

In addition to these documents and designations, a thorough estate plan also should consider the purchase of insurance, like long-term care insurance, a lifetime annuity to generate some level of income until death, and life insurance to pass money to beneficiaries without probate.

Let's look at each item on this checklist to make sure you haven't left any decisions to chance.

Wills and Trusts. A will or trust should be one of the primary parts of your estate plan, even if you don't have a lot of assets. Wills make certain that your assets are distributed according to your instructions. Some trusts also help limit estate taxes or legal challenges. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about wills and trusts.

Power Of Attorney. A durable power of attorney (POA) allows an agent or a person you assign to act on your behalf, if you’re unable to do so yourself. A healthcare power of attorney (HCPA) designates another person to make critical healthcare decisions on your behalf in the event of incapacity.

Beneficiary Designations. Some of your assets will pass to your heirs without being mentioned in your will, such as 401(k) plan assets. Therefore, maintain a beneficiary and a contingent beneficiary on these types of accounts. Likewise, insurance plans should have a beneficiary and a contingent beneficiary, because they also pass outside of a will. Your beneficiaries should be over 21 and mentally competent.

Letter of Intent. This is simply a document for your executor or a beneficiary to define what you want done with a particular asset after your death or incapacitation. Some letters of intent also contain funeral details and other special requests. A letter of intent isn’t legally binding. It helps inform a probate judge of your intentions and may help in the distribution of your assets, if the will is declared invalid for some reason.

Guardians. If you have minor children or are considering having kids, naming a guardian is very important. Be sure the person(s) shares your views, is financially sound and willing to raise your children. You should also name a backup or contingent guardian.

Most people don’t understand that if you don’t name a guardian in your will, the decision is made by the court. It is possible that the court choses someone you would never have wanted to raise your children.

Meet with an estate planning attorney and prepare a complete estate plan to protect your loved ones.

Reference: Investopedia (July 16, 2019) “6 Estate Planning Must-Haves”