A new year provides the opportunity to address all of those lingering issues that get lost in the rush of day-to-day life. One of those issues is making sure you have an effective estate plan. Recent studies show approximately 60% of Americans do not have a will or other estate planning documents. While not exactly a fun endeavor, proactive estate planning has many benefits, ranging from controlling the distribution of estate assets to saving loved ones from unnecessary heartache and expense. Also, if you are a business owner, estate planning helps ensure your wishes are followed with regard to the distribution of ownership and operation of your business following your death. Following are a few easy steps for beginning your estate planning process:
1. Size up your estate. Before you can begin planning for your estate, you must first determine your goals. Do you want to provide for a family member with special needs? Do you want your heirs to manage your wealth? Who will you name as guardian if you have minor children? Writing down a list of goals for your estate will help focus the process.
2. Evaluate your assets. Your estate is made up of assets this includes everything you own or in which you have an interest, including investments, retirements accounts, real estate, businesses, and personal property. Developing an inventory of your assets now and updating it periodically greatly streamlines the probate process for your executor.
3. Seek assistance with drafting and executing your estate documents. Engage professionals, including an attorney, to assist with assessing your estate and recommending the estate planning tools which best meet your needs. Your attorney will guide you through the process of drafting, finalizing, and executing your Will and other relevant documents, and provide information and guidance regarding the estate planning and probate process.
4. Communicate with your heirs. Once your plan is in place, make sure and discuss your wishes and expectations with family and friends who will be affected by your passing. While it may seem uncomfortable at first, the sooner and more clearly you outline your intentions, the more likely your loves ones will experience a smooth probate of your estate after you are gone.
5. Review for updates. Life changes and your estate plan should change with it. Review your documents whenever you experience a major life event (e.g., marriage, divorce, property acquisition, the death of a loved one), and at the very least annually, to ensure your estate plan still meets your needs.