Get the New Year Started Off Right with Estate Planning

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1 P A G E 1 Get the New Year Started Off Right with Estate Planning As your family grows, so does the importance of reassessing your estate Having an estate plan in place will ensure your legacy goals are carried out and your wealth will be distributed as you desire. Money represents different values to different people, but for everyone it provides security for their family. Once you ve started a family it s important to set up an estate plan in order to take care of yourself and others in the event that the unexpected occurs. Having legal estate documents in place will ensure that your financial affairs and family matters are taken care of at all times. No matter the level of your wealth, putting these steps in motion early will ensure your legacy goals are carried out and that your wealth will be distributed as you desire. There are several documents in a basic estate plan, including: A will A living will or health care proxy A durable power of attorney

2 Evaluating Your Assets Your will lets you specify a guardian for your children and should be updated with each new addition. P A G E 2 Oftentimes, it s difficult to know where to begin when in the early stages of planning your estate. You may find it useful to first meet with a financial advisor and take inventory of your assets including any investments, retirement accounts, insurance policies and all real estate that you own. It s also important to note that your wealth inventory also includes any liabilities, such as your credit card and mortgage debt. These steps will help you fully understand your net worth. Now that you are ready to consider your legacy plans and what you want to leave to family, it is time to meet with a qualified estate planning attorney. An experienced estate planning attorney understands the latest tax laws and can inform you when changes or opportunities arise. They can also help you consider what kind of legacy you would like to create and how to most effectively distribute your assets upon your passing. Your attorney will then create the legal documents that make up your estate plan. Creating a Will If you want your estate to be distributed a certain way you must prepare a will. Without one, the court will step in and distribute your assets according to the laws of your state and will also determine who will take guardianship of your children. Putting your last will and testament in place appoints an executor to administer the will, lets you specify a guardian for your children, and ensures your assets are distributed according to your wishes. It s important to prepare your will as soon as you begin having children and to name a guardian over them in your will. Many parents today choose to name one guardian to care for their children and a second guardian to oversee the financial matters of their children. Since lives change, your will should be updated after each child or every 5-10 years to ensure that it reflects your current thoughts. The people you originally intended to care for your children may no longer have the capability to help as they age themselves.

3 P A G E 3 Preparing Your Advance Healthcare Directive You may not think you need a healthcare proxy yet, but it should be put in place once you turn 21. An advance directive informs family and health care professionals about your end of life wishes and is an essential incapacity plan. This is also known as a living will, or health care proxy; and although it may not be necessary until you are quite old, it should be put in place as soon as you re twenty-one. In the event that you are incapacitated, having an advance directive will allow whomever you designate as your agent to legally make healthcare decisions for you. Your advance directive further allows you to specify the circumstances under which you wish your agent to step in such as after a certain amount of time incapacitated or in the event of certain medical prognoses. Your Durable Power of Attorney A Durable Power of Attorney gives someone complete power to step into your shoes. This person then can act on your behalf in healthcare situations, but you need both the Power of Attorney and the Healthcare Advance Directive. Whereas the directive includes specific end of life and treatment wishes, your power of attorney grants complete legal authority to your agent. With a valid power of attorney, the trusted person named will legally be permitted to take care of your important matters, such as, paying your bills, managing your investments, or sell- ing your business, should you be unable to do so yourself. If you are of legal age and haven't named a durable power of attorney, your loved ones may have to go to court to get the authority to handle your affairs in the event of an emergency situation.

4 Titling Your Assets and Designating P A G E 4 Your Beneficiaries The decisions you have made about your estate plan need to properly align with the rest of the decisions you ve made regarding your assets. If you ve named beneficiaries and joint owners on assets that contradict those you ve named in your will, all of that time spent on the will was useless. Any life insurance policies, IRAs, 401(k) retirement plans, or pension plans pass outside your will and have specifically named beneficiaries. Now is the time to review and update those beneficiary designations to coincide with your legacy plans. For added flexibility, it s often helpful to designate one or more contingent beneficiaries as well. A contingent beneficiary inherits when the original beneficiary has either passed away or chooses to disclaim the assets usually for a tax advantage. Making this addition allows your beneficiaries greater flexibility in managing your assets. Reviewing the ownership titles to your assets is also a vital step; this includes any savings and investment accounts, as well as your home, automobiles and anything else you might own. Many families decide to own these assets as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, this allows for an immediate transfer to the surviving joint owner. This becomes an issue, however, when you ve made a specific decision in your will such as to take advantage of estate tax allowances and your titling supersedes your will. Your estate planning attorney can help you ensure your accounts have appropriate titles and holdings to guarantee your estate plans are in order. Organizing Your Vital Records After taking the steps to plan your estate, it s essential to file your documents and let your loved ones know where to find copies of them. Your will, titles, policies and other vital records will all be needed in the event of your incapacity or death. Keeping this information where it can easily be accessed in the case of an emergency will help your family move forward more easily. Keep your copy in a home safe, computer file or desk drawer and make the passwords readily accessible. Keeping vital records where they can easily be accessed eases the burden on family members.

5 P A G E 5 Final Thoughts Planning your estate will put your family on the right path to security. By taking these steps, you re ensuring that you have the basic protection and plans necessary to give your family peace of mind in the event you are ever incapacitated. As you become comfortable with your estate plans and your family grows you should regularly review your plans and consider more specific additions that fit your changing circumstances. 3 questions to ask yourself when planning your estate: 1. Whom do you want to inherit your assets? 2. Whom do you want caring for your children and their financial affairs? 3. Whom do you want making medical decisions for you in the event you become unable to make them for yourself? 5 steps to planning your estate: 1. Evaluate your assets. 2. Prepare your will. 3. Prepare your advance directive and power of attorney. 4. Title your assets and designate beneficiaries. 5. Organize your vital records.

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