Estate planning is the process of reviewing your relationships (family/friends), assets, and any other special needs or considerations and then crafting a plan for these relationships, assets or needs in the event of your death or incapacitation. Everyone needs an estate plan. It is how your voice is heard and outlines who will speak on your behalf if you are unable to do so yourself.
An estate plan:
- Lets people know how decisions should be made.
- How your assets should be distributed.
- Who should carry out these plans.
- May help minimize tax liabilities for surviving family members.
- Helps family maintain some government (survivors) benefits.
- Helps you plan for special needs situations (a disabled child, a surviving elderly parent).
Estate plans can include:
- Last Will and Testament
- Medical Power of Attorney/Health Care Proxy
- Living Will
- Financial Power of Attorney
- Standby Guardianship
The best way to begin the estate planning process is to consult with a lawyer. Your lawyer can help you assess your assets (what you own/cash/retirement/life insurance/stocks) as well as your liabilities (what you owe and to whom). The lawyer can help you make plans for assets and who/where they should go upon your death. The lawyer can also be sure that the documents are completed in accordance with state laws.
It is important to talk with your family about your estate plan. This helps to minimize surprises and can provide comfort and peace of mind to your family. You should also be sure that your family knows where to access the documents that are part of your estate plan; are they in a safe? a safe deposit box? a kitchen drawer? Completing your estate plan can ease stress for you and your loved ones and improve your quality of life.