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The 7 Steps For Successful Estate Planning

The process of estate planning can be daunting to some, with the plethora of options and decisions that need to be made. It is important to plan for the future, and estate planning is a crucial part of that. Estate planning can include wills, trusts, health care directives, powers of attorney, and more. Do you have these documents in place? If not, it's time to get started. 

One of the main goals of estate planning is to make sure that your beneficiaries receive your assets in a way that minimizes the amount of tax they have to pay. It’s reassuring to know that your loved ones will be looked after without any additional financial burden when you die. 

Another goal of estate planning is to make sure that your money is not all used up for possible medical, hospital, and nursing home expenses, leaving your beneficiaries with little of your money.

Now is the time to start organizing your estate planning, and to help you, we’ve put together these seven steps to plan your estate successfully. This blog post will walk you through seven steps to getting your estate planning completed correctly, which will ensure that your wishes are followed after you're gone or are incapacitated.

1. Make a detailed inventory of everything you own

26% of people delay estate planning because they think they don’t have enough assets, and 49% of people think their assets aren’t worth enough to justify the perceived long, complicated process. But, when you get into it, and take a look at what you own, you’re going to be shocked by the number of assets you actually have - and how much they’re worth. 

There are two types of assets you have to include in your inventory: 

  • Tangible assets
  • Intangible assets

Your tangible assets could include things like:

  • Your home
  • Land you own
  • Other properties under your name
  • Vehicles like cars, motorbikes, and even boats
  • High-value collectibles such as art or antiques
  • Personal possessions or family heirlooms

Your intangible assets could include things like:

  • Savings and checking accounts
  • Certificates of deposit
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Life insurance policies
  • Retirement plans such as IRA’s and 401(k’s)
  • Pensions
  • Ownership in a business 

We can provide you with a simple form to fill in to make a complete, detailed inventory list of all your assets. The next task is to estimate the value of their combined worth. 

You may want to get outside valuations/industry estimations to help you discover the exact cost of your assets. But, usually an estimate is good enough.

For example, you can get:

  • An appraisal conducted on your home or research its value online 
  • Review the latest statements of your bank accounts, mortgage, brokerage and retirement accounts
  • A valuation on any collections, family heirlooms, or antiques

If you don’t have an outside valuation performed, the value of your items is often based on how your heirs will value them. A valuation will help ensure that your possessions are given out equally amongst your loved ones. 

2. Think about what your family will need when you’re gone

After you’ve organized your inventory, it’s time to think about how to protect these assets. This will help make sure your family is looked after when you’ve passed on. 

Precautions to protect your assets can include:

  • Making sure you have life insurance 
  • Naming a guardian for your child (and a second choice guardian in the event something happens to your first choice) 
  • Writing your will and regularly updating it - 50–60% of Americans don't have a will, but it is a vital part of planning your estate
  • Having a trust if recommended by an attorney

You should also clearly document details about how you wish your children to be cared for after you’ve passed on. 

This is incredibly important because if you don’t clearly outline your wishes, family members may not raise your child the way you wish. If any issues go to court, a judge will be able to abide by your wishes if they’re legally recorded.

Not having your estate plan in order can cause family disputes after you’ve passed. 35% of American adults say they have personally experienced family conflict as a result of a deceased loved one not having an estate plan or will in place. 

3. Appoint your beneficiaries

It’s important to remember that only assets and belongings which are owned in your name alone are probated. Assets which are jointly owned or have a designated beneficiary do not require a probate court judge to decide who will get them.

For example, if your home is jointly owned with your spouse, he or she may automatically own the house when you die. 

If you have a joint bank account or payable-on-death bank account, the money within this account will be given to the account’s co-owner or listed beneficiaries, who were indicated on the bank forms you filled out when you opened the account. 

Some other assets that need beneficiaries appointed for can include:

  • Your retirement plan
  • Insurance accounts
  • Brokerage accounts 

You should regularly double-check your listed beneficiaries, as relationships can change over time and you may wish to change who is named on your policies or accounts, particularly if they were initially written up over a decade ago. 

For example, if your ex-spouse was a beneficiary on your life insurance policy and you neglected to change it, then your current spouse will face more heartache after you pass on. 

So, don’t forget to update your beneficiaries!

4. Figure out where you want your money to go 

When organizing your estate and planning the future for your loved ones, don’t forget to take into account what you actually want. 

For example, if you have a certain amount of savings, you may want 20% of them to go towards charity, or towards your nieces’ and nephews’ education. 

Always make sure you have your goals for your estate clearly outlined. 

5. Organize your files and paperwork

Estate planning isn’t only about figuring out legal matters. It’s also about making life easier for your loved ones when you die. 

This is why it’s necessary that you keep all your files neatly organized so your family can find everything they need after you’ve gone. 

Store all your estate information in an accessible place which your family knows about, so your family doesn’t have trouble finding it. Do not store estate planning documents in a safety-deposit box which only you have access to. 

This information can include:

  • Will
  • Trusts
  • Power of Attorney
  • Bank account information
  • Mortgages
  • Pension plans 
  • Property deeds
  • Investment portfolios
  • Information about your insurance policies 
  • Funeral plans

An estate plan, when constructed properly, can provide your family with peace of mind when it comes to sorting out your affairs. They’ll know exactly what to do when you pass, and they won’t have to worry about going against your wishes. 

6. Regularly review and update everything

When life changes, you should change your estate plan too. It always needs to be reviewed and updated. Estate planning, unfortunately, isn’t a one-time deal, and as the years go by, you should update everything on a regular basis. 

Remember to revisit your estate plan if:

  • You get divorced
  • You get married
  • You have a child
  • You suffer the loss of a loved one
  • You get a new job
  • You lose a job 
  • You buy or sell a property 

You shouldn’t just revisit your estate plan if things change either. Go over it again every so often because even if your personal situation hasn’t changed, your state’s laws might have. 

It may take effort to revise your plan, but if you update it often, then you’re less likely to run into issues later on.

7. Get professional estate planning advice

Hiring a professional estate planning attorney who knows what they’re doing can help move things along when it comes to creating your estate plan. 

If you have questions about your estate planning, hiring a legal professional to help you will answer the questions which you have.

Estate planning involves many complicated things, and even the slightest mistake in paperwork can have long-lasting effects on your estate, particularly when it comes to paying taxes. 

What can an estate planning attorney do?

Your attorney can analyze your unique situation and guide you through the complicated processes of developing an estate plan and show you precisely what steps to take to maximize the benefits to your loved ones.  

If you have any questions about estate planning, please contact us to schedule a free in-person or Zoom video consultation. We will review your specific matter, respond to your questions, and provide a written recommendation letter which will outline a course of action and the cost for the service.  

If this all sounds confusing, or you don’t know where to begin when it comes to planning your estate, then we can help. Contact us now.

We’re a team of experienced lawyers who can help you sort out all the details needed for your estate plan. 

Whether you’re just drafting your estate plan or need help with your revisions, the team at Meimaris Law can help make sure you get it right. 

Get in touch with our team today.

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