A recent Harris poll revealed that 64% of all American adults have not put an estate plan in place,1 even though having a comprehensive plan is critical to protecting you and your family’s future by minimizing taxes and expenses and maximizing what you’re able to leave behind.
Estate planning is often a topic no one wants to talk about — but everyone needs to. An estate plan ensures your assets are distributed according to your wishes, whether that’s who takes care of your pet or how much you are able to posthumously support your favorite charity or cause.
While the estate planning process may seem like a huge endeavor, taking just a few steps can get you quickly on your way. Here are five guidelines that can help get you started.
1. Never too early, never too late.
Many establish an estate plan upon getting married, buying a home, having children, losing a loved one unexpectedly or undergoing another life-changing event. Whatever the reason, it’s never too early—or too late—to make your first estate plan. Likewise, if you established an estate plan years ago, it’s prudent to revisit your plan periodically to determine if changes need to be made.
2. Don’t forget about taxes.
An estate tax is imposed at a federal and sometimes state level; some states also have an inheritance tax. Knowing who will be taxed and how is a crucial component of the estate planning process. Make sure your plan helps you maximize what you leave behind.
3. Be specific and thorough with your beneficiaries and assets.
The more detailed you are with your wishes, the easier it will be on your beneficiaries to honor them. For example, if you want a specific family member to inherit your pet, be sure to include that information in your will.
4. Consider what would happen if you became incapacitated.
Estate planning is not limited to inheritance. Unfortunately, many adults face a period of incapacitation or incompetency, particularly near the end of their lives. The estate planning process empowers you to make medical and financial arrangements that dictate who will take care of you and how if you become unable take care of yourself.
5. Choose your executor carefully.
While you may instinctively believe that your spouse or child is best suited to handle your estate, it may be easier on your loved ones if you name someone who is not as personally invested to handle the extensive duties and demands required of an executor, trustee or guardian objectively.
The most important factor in estate planning is that you work with someone you trust.
Your advisor’s firm likely offers a combination of tax, investment and legal services, putting him or her in an ideal position to assist you in estate planning. Contact your financial advisor today to begin creating your estate plan or update it if life events have taken your original plan off course. It’s never too early or too late to plan what your legacy will be.
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1 Survey conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Poll on behalf of Rocket Lawyer in 2015.