Planning an Estate

Making an estate plan can give peace of mind to yourself, a surviving spouse, and your family members.

Despite its importance, estate planning is often considered a low priority by many people, even as they age. It can also be hard for people to think about their own eventual death or incapacity.

The section below provides helpful links to relevant topics:

This comprehensive estate planning section provides information about common estate planning topics and tools. Use this landing page to create a checklist of issues to explore deeper based on your circumstances.

The Importance of Estate Planning

Making an estate plan can give you, a surviving spouse, and other loved ones peace of mind. Despite its importance, many people often consider estate planning a low-priority task. That's understandable. Thinking about your inevitable death or potential incapacity can be challenging, but don't let any initial hesitancy prevent you from estate planning.

Important Considerations

Estate Laws

What Is a Beneficiary?

Estate Tax Law

Meeting With an Estate Planning Lawyer

Creating a proper estate plan can allow you to:

  • Select guardians for your dependents
  • Engage in tax planning for asset protection purposes
  • Make your long-term care and healthcare decisions known to loved ones and medical providers
  • Align your financial affairs with your estate plan
  • Ensure your beneficiary designations are up to date so that selected assets transfer to beneficiaries according to your wishes
  • Minimize or eliminate the probate court process

People who plan their estate enjoy many benefits. They can include the following:

  • Avoiding the probate process
  • Supporting minor children
  • Automatic transfer of real estate and other real property without going through probate
  • Providing for those with special needs
  • Having the ability to update and make changes to your plan during their lifetime

Experience the benefits of estate planning by getting started with an estate plan today.

Types of Estate Plans

The most common legal documents people use to transfer money or property are:

All these legal documents together are also called an estate plan. As you begin planning, it's important to be informed about the various forms of estate plans. You can decide which is the most suitable for your situation. For example, one plan might be more advantageous than another regarding estate taxes.

You may also transfer other financial products by beneficiary designations. These assets can include the following:

  • Bank accounts
  • Annuities
  • Retirement accounts
  • Life insurance policies

Once you designate beneficiaries, make sure you keep them up to date.

As part of your estate plan, you can create documents that give someone else the power to make financial decisions. A financial power of attorney is helpful if you ever face incapacity or accidental death.

Estate planning can also include choices about your end-of-life care and medical care through:

These documents can give a loved one or another person the right to make medical decisions on your behalf. They can legally act as your healthcare proxy.

Life Insurance Policies Within Your Estate Plan

You can have an estate plan without having life insurance. However, life insurance will benefit your beneficiaries when you pass away. It can be a useful tool within your estate plan. Transferring a life insurance policy correctly can lower estate taxes.

Retirement Accounts Within Your Estate Plan

Retirement plans can also be part of your overall estate plan. Your estate plan documents will create a plan to transfer your money and assets after death. Often this includes retirement accounts you created earlier during your life, including IRAs and 401ks.

Estate Laws 101

The federal government and each state have estate laws. These laws cover issues such as:

If you're considering an estate plan, ensure you fully understand the applicable laws. An attorney or at-home DIY-guided process can help you decide on the plan that best suits your needs and wishes.

The Consequences of Failing To Plan

In extreme cases, a failure to plan your estate can lead to ugly disputes and costly lawsuits between family members. If a court is asked to distribute assets, it may do so in a way that doesn't reflect the decedent's wishes.

Also, it can take a year or more for a court-appointed executor to locate and manage estate property. Another consequence of lacking an estate plan is the payment of unnecessary taxes and other costs. Legal advice can set you up to succeed in getting a comprehensive estate plan in place.

Estate Planning Help

You have options for estate planning strategies. You can:

Contact an estate planning attorney first if you have a complex estate or family dynamic. State laws vary considerably.

Even if you work with an attorney, a guided online process can take complex ideas and help simplify them for you. Using online resources can also help you get organized. Gathering the relevant documents can help you build the framework for your plan. The better you understand the requirements, the more effective your time with an attorney will be.

First Steps in Your Estate Planning Process

Organization and preparation are always helpful in estate planning. The time spent preparing yourself and your paperwork can often translate into a more efficient and thorough analysis of your needs.

You can review an intake questionnaire to know what questions to consider. Choices about your health, property, and family connections may need weeks of thought before you know your wishes.

Learning More Before You Start

The articles linked in this article can educate you on the big decisions you must make.

Though the decisions can be hard to think about, an estate plan will ensure that your wishes are communicated clearly and with the maximum weight of the law. It will also minimize negative tax implications and seek to avoid future disputes by beneficiaries.

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