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Back to Basics: Estate Planning

Back to Basics: Estate Planning

January 19, 2024

Estate planning is an integral component of any good financial plan. Without this planning, you can leave your loved ones without the resources they need to take care of themselves or their family in case something unexpected happens to you.

Let's define what estate planning means. Estate planning involves assessing and managing your tangible and intangible assets to ensure they are passed on effectively to the people you choose upon death or incapacitation. We will delve into different aspects of estate planning to give you a better understanding.

What Are Your Tangible and Intangible Assets?

Tangible assets include investments like stocks, bonds, real estate, cash, and other items with monetary value. Intangible assets may consist of intellectual property, a business interest, or a family heirloom. Knowing the assets you have will be the first step in estate planning.

How to Protect Your Assets and Your Family?

Often, families have had to battle for their loved one's assets due to a lack of clear instructions or ill-planned estate planning. You can protect your assets for your loved ones by establishing clear directives in the form of legal documents.

Establishing the correct legal documents gives you peace of mind knowing that the details are taken care of. You know that if something happens, your loved ones will have guidance on what to do.

Establish Your Directives

One of the most significant processes in estate planning is to establish your directives. This includes wills and trusts, power of attorney documents, living wills/directives for medical decisions, and beneficiary decisions.

Wills and Trusts

A will is a legal document that indicates how you want assets divided after death. A trust allows assets to pass outside probate and can be used to protect assets from creditors, taxes, or other losses.

The choice between a will and a trust depends on the size of your estate, tax considerations, legal complications, and other factors. You can consult with an attorney to determine which is best for you.

Power of Attorney

A power of attorney (POA) is a legally binding document that gives another party the right to decide on your behalf in case of illness or incapacitation. There are two common types of POA:

  • Durable
  • Medical/Healthcare

A durable POA allows someone to manage your financial matters if you can't do so. A medical/healthcare POA mandates another person to make decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated and not mentally able.

Living Wills/Directives for Medical Decisions

A living will, also known as an advance healthcare directive, is a document that states what medical procedures you want to be done if you’re unable to communicate your wishes.

The essence of having a living will is to protect you from extraordinary or unwanted medical intervention. It allows you and your family members to decide how the doctor should act in an emergency.

Beneficiary Decisions

Beneficiaries are people, institutions, or organizations that will receive assets upon death. These assets can include investments, bank accounts, retirement accounts, real estate, or other items with monetary value.

It is advisable to review your beneficiary designations regularly and keep them up to date. This will ensure that your assets are passed on the way you intended.

Understanding Tax Laws in Relation to Estate Planning

Tax laws can have a considerable impact on estate planning. Understanding the tax implications of estate planning decisions is essential so you can plan accordingly.

For example, if you create a trust, there may be implications for taxes and estate taxes. It's important to consult with an attorney or tax professional to discuss the tax implications of your decisions.

Have a Plan to Re-analyze Your Plan

A well-thought-out plan is only as effective as it remains current. Life changes often and updating your estate planning documents is necessary.

If you’ve had significant life changes (such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child), ensure that your estate plan is up-to-date and covers these events. This will give you peace of mind knowing that all bases are covered.

Conclusion

Estate planning is vital in managing your assets and protecting your family. Establishing legal documents, understanding tax laws, and regularly reviewing your estate plan are key steps in ensuring your wishes will be fulfilled after death. With the proper planning and guidance, you can take care of your loved ones and give them protection.

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