An adequately planned and properly executed estate plan can ensure that your assets will pass directly to your intended heirs with the least amount of cost and hassle. Here are 7 essential elements when establishing a sound estate plan:
Have a current and properly executed will. Unfortunately, many Americans do not have a will. For those who die intestate (without a will) the decedent’s state of residence has laws that dictate how assets should be distributed. In addition to asset distribution, intestacy laws and the courts help determine who would be the most suitable guardian for minor children. For most families, a court appointed solution for the assignment of guardians and the distribution of assets is not the ideal situation, especially in a time of grief.
Properly title assets. There are many alternatives when it comes to the titling of property and other financial assets. Common alternatives include individual or joint registration, tenants in common, or limited liability corporations (LLCs) among others. Property can also be registered in the name of a trust. It is important that the titling of your assets coincides with your estate distribution wishes.
Avoid probate when possible. While the probate process of transferring estate property is not an entirely burdensome process, it is a public and potentially costly process that can be limited with proper planning. Appropriate titling of assets, the use of trusts and designating beneficiaries are all effective tools that can be utilized to help avoid or minimize probate.
Complete Durable and Health Care Powers of Attorney. These important documents assign
decision-making authority to another individual in the event you are unable to make decisions on your own behalf.
Periodically review and update beneficiary designations. Once retirement accounts and life insurance policies are established, many people never reconsider their beneficiary designations again. It is important to periodically confirm that beneficiary designations coordinate with the disposition of assets that are addressed in other estate documents.
Take a proactive approach with estate planning. Simplify your finances by consolidating brokerage and other investment accounts, as well as, bank accounts. Being organized can remove some of the administrative hassle away from your family and reduce advisor and attorney fees at your death.
Review and occasionally update your estate plan. All estate planning decisions and strategies need to be periodically reassessed. Not only do estate laws change, but often times changes within a family unit may also necessitate revisions to an estate plan. Deaths, births, and marriages can alter the family dynamics in a way that will require modifications to wills, trusts, powers of attorney, or health care powers. Periodically reviewing these documents can ensure an effective estate plan that reflects your wishes.
If you have any questions, would like to discuss your estate plan in more detail or need a referral for a qualified estate planning attorney, please feel free to contact our office.