Creating an Estate Plan
It's your legacy.
Our two cents
Setting up an estate plan doesn't have to be complicated. Here are some things you can do to get started:
Take an inventory of your assets and liabilities.
List the value of your home and other real estate, cars, jewelry, artwork and other physical assets. Gather recent statements from each of your bank, investment and brokerage accounts. Make a list of all insurance policies, their cash value and death benefit. Finally, list all liabilities, including mortgages, lines of credit and other debt. To simplify this task, use our net worth worksheet.
Define your estate-planning objectives.
How do you want your assets distributed? List the people and the percentages you want them to get. Who will you name as beneficiaries if these heirs aren't living at the time of your death? If you have minor children, who do you want to care for them? What assets do you want to put aside to provide for your children's ongoing care and education? Who do you want to manage your affairs if you become disabled or to distribute your assets upon your death? Who will make health care decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated? Also think about your wishes concerning life-sustaining medical treatment if you are terminally ill. Answering these questions before you meet with an estate planner can save you both time and money.
Review the titling and beneficiaries on all your accounts and properties.
If you discover any inaccuracies, make necessary changes now. This will assure your assets won't be left to the wrong person.
Meet with an estate-planning attorney.
Estate settlement laws vary from state to state, so it's wise to have an experienced estate-planning attorney prepare your plan. A qualified attorney will review your objectives and explain how best to use wills, trusts, powers of attorney, etc., to your advantage. Your attorney can also bring up issues you may have missed and help you draft the necessary documents, including:
- A will and final letter of instructions—Make sure loved ones know where to find these and other important documents, including an inventory list of accounts, assets, insurance policies, etc.
- A living will or advance health care directive—Be sure to establish durable power of attorney and durable power of attorney for health care, appointing someone you trust to handle your affairs in case you become incapacitated.
- A revocable living trust—This might be most appropriate for your situation.
Staying up to date.
Be sure to revisit your estate plan every three to five years, or whenever you make a major life change. Marriage, divorce, the birth of a child or grandchild, the loss of a spouse or other beneficiary, loss of a parent or someone who has depended on you financially, or moving to another state may require you to make changes to reflect your current status and desires.