Estate planning: it’s a topic no one wants to think about. Yet it’s extremely important. If the worst should happen and you don’t have your financial affairs in order, you will be leaving it up to your loved ones to decide what to do, or worse, the court.
“That’s usually when the fights begin,” says Diane Park, a financial planner in Minneapolis. “If you have the right documents completed beforehand, it can save time, it saves energy, and then you’re the one making your own decisions.”
So prevent the fights and protect your assets by following these 8 estate planning essentials:
- Draft a will
Did you know that more than half of American adults don’t have a will? If you have children, this is a big mistake. Families with young kids should ask an attorney about creating a minor’s trust so that assets you leave them will be held in the trust until they reach your state’s “age of majority” (18 in most states).
- Consult an attorney about trusts
For those with an estate worth more than $2 million, or who own real estate in more than one state or want to keep the details of their trust private, establishing a living trust is a must. This will keep your estate out of probate along with its associated costs and hassles.
- Appoint a power of attorney
The financial power of attorney allows someone to take care of things such as writing checks, while the medical power of attorney allows someone to make decisions about your healthcare. Without this form, your loved ones might have to go to court to handle simple estate matters if you are incapacitated.
- Prepare your advance directive
Have you considered your end-of-life preferences? Your personal desires when it comes to the end of your life can be part of your living will in the form of a medical power of attorney and Do Not Resuscitate orders. Creating one doesn’t require an attorney. Find the advance directive permitted in your state at caringinfo.org.
- Carry life insurance
This is especially important to those with children that are dependent on you financially. Generally, term life is your best bet. Accuquote.com can give you premium quotes.
- Update your beneficiaries
Did you know that beneficiaries on your 401(k), insurance policies, retirement accounts and investments trump your will? That’s why you need to check the name of the beneficiary on all your investments.
- Organize your paperwork
Place your tax returns, insurance policies, brokerage and 401(k) statements, and mortgage together in one place and then tell your spouse or closest family member where that is. Aside from the documents mentioned above, also include your Social Security and health insurance/Medicare cards, plus contact information for your doctors, lawyer, and accountants.
- Keep important documents in the right place
It is never a good idea to keep your original will in your safe-deposit box. The original belongs with your lawyer. You can also scan all your important financial paperwork and keep a virtual copy with a Web site like vitalesafe.com (it’s free for up to 100MB of space) and make sure to share access with your closest family member.
For more information about estate planning, check out this article in Realty Times about protecting your children’s inheritance. Of course, if you’re in the market for property to enhance your estate and think that property might just be in Santa Barbara, Montecito or the surrounding communities, call me at 805.886.9378 or email me at Cristal@montecito-estate.com. I’ll happily show you what’s move-in ready on the market right now, as well as share my pocket listings.