Estate planning is the collection of preparation tasks that serve to manage an individual’s asset base in the event of their incapacitation or death, including the bequest of assets to heirs and the settlement of estate taxes. Most estate plans are set up with the help of an attorney experienced in estate law.
Some of the major estate planning tasks include:
- Creating a will
- Limiting estate taxes by setting up trust accounts in the name of beneficiaries
- Establishing a guardian for living dependents
- Naming an executor of the estate to oversee the terms of the will
- Creating/updating beneficiaries on plans such as life insurance, IRAs and 401(k)s
- Setting up funeral arrangements
- Establishing annual gifting to reduce the taxable estate
- Setting up durable power of attorney (POA) to direct other assets and investments
Estate planning is an ongoing process and should be started as soon as one has any measurable asset base. As life progresses and goals shift, the estate plan should move to be in line with new goals. Lack of adequate estate planning can cause undue financial burdens to loved ones (estate taxes can run higher than 40%), so at the very least a will should be set up even if the taxable estate is not large.
An estate plan is the process of planning for the orderly administration and disposition of property after the owner dies. The goals of your estate plan may include the following:
- Avoiding confusion when it comes to your final wishes.
- Ensuring that your children have the legal guardian of your choice.
- Protecting loved ones by ensuring that they receive your assets.
- Helping to reduce or avoid conflict among family members.
- Minimizing taxes and legal expenses associated with your estate.
- Wealth preservation for your intended beneficiaries.
- Flexibility for you before you die.
If you die without an estate plan that includes a will, you are considered to have died intestate, and the state where you live will determine who gets your assets as determined under the state’s inheritance laws. This may mean that some of the people you love are left out of the distribution. Worse yet, if there is no one that fits the criteria, guess who keeps your assets? The government itself.
Estate planning is a must especially if you are in a non-traditional relationship, you have chosen to cohabitate without being married, you have been married more than once and/or you have children. If you have children from a previous marriage, your estate planning is even more important, as your current spouse may not be inclined to share your estate with them unless that spouse is required to do as based on the provisions of your will. The last thing you want to do is to unintentionally disinherit someone you love because you failed to implement a plan for the proper disposition of your estate.
Who Needs Estate Planning?
In general, anyone who has ownership in real or personal property should perform estate planning for those properties. This includes the following:
- Anyone who owns property alone, as tenants in common (TIC), or as community property.
- Anyone owning assets in multiple states.
- Anyone who has dependents.
- Anyone who owns a small business.
- Anyone who may become incapacitated prior to death.
- Anyone who wants to make a transfer of wealth.
- Anyone who owns assets that may be subject to tax and want to reduce the taxes involved in transferring these assets.