Estate planning isn’t only for the wealthy. Everyone should have documentation in place in the case of their incapacitation or death in order to ensure their wishes are met regarding the distribution of their assets and decisions related to their healthcare in the event of their incapacity. Having proper documentation can also help you avoid a lengthy probate process, which is a legal procedure that seeks to confirm the validity of your will.
Your will spells out how you want your assets to be disbursed, as well as who you designate as your executor. This is the person who will be in charge of paying your taxes and final expenses. He or she will also follow your will’s instructions related to bequeathing assets.
Prior to writing your will, you need to review your assets and determine the best ways to lower or eliminate estate and inheritance taxes. Your tax advisor can guide you through your options, which could include setting up trusts, making annual contributions to your favorite charities, giving money to your beneficiaries while you are living, and freezing your estate. If you have a life insurance policy, oftentimes the proceeds can be used to cover expenses, such as taxes and funeral costs. The life insurance payout is usually not subject to income tax for the beneficiaries.
Keep in mind that you will want to revisit and amend your will as changes in your life happen, whether in relation to your assets and/or your beneficiaries.
If any of your beneficiaries are minors, they will require a guardian to oversee their inheritance until they reach the age of legal adulthood in their home state. You will want to appoint a trusted friend or family member to handle this for you. This person should be identified in your will. Your attorney will go over all of these details during the process of putting together or revising your will.
Depending on your particular circumstances, you might want to draw up additional documents to plan ahead. A durable power of attorney, for instance, allows the person you appoint as your agent to make financial decisions on your behalf in the event of your disability or incapacity. It is no longer valid upon your death. Unlike a durable power of attorney, a revocable living trust persists into the future, even after you are no longer living. Any assets you put into this trust will avoid probate. You or your trustee will manage the account, and your beneficiaries will receive the income and possibly the principal.
There are other documents and measures that might be necessary or desired as you are planning the distribution of your estate. Consulting with your tax advisor, your estate attorney, and your loved ones, if appropriate, will help you prepare now for making a successful transition of your assets once you have passed on.
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