Believe it or not, you have an estate. In fact, nearly everyone does. Your estate is comprised of everything you own— your car, home, other real estate, checking and savings accounts, investments, life insurance, furniture, personal possessions. No matter how large or how modest, everyone has an estate and something in common—you can’t take it with you when you die.
When that happens—and it is a “when” and not an “if”—you probably want to control how those things are given to the people or organizations you care most about. To ensure your wishes are carried out, you need to provide instructions stating whom you want to receive something of yours, what you want them to receive, and when they are to receive it. You will, of course, want this to happen with the least amount paid in taxes, legal fees, and court costs.
That is estate planning—making a plan in advance and naming whom you want to receive the things you own after you die. However, good estate planning is much more than that.
It should also:
• Include instructions for passing your values (religion, education, hard work, etc.) in addition to your valuables.
• Include instructions for your care if you become disabled before you die.
• Name a guardian and an inheritance manager for minor children.
• Provide for family members with special needs without disrupting government benefits.
• Provide for loved ones who might be irresponsible with money or who may need future protection from creditors or divorce.
• Include life insurance to provide for your family at your death, disability income insurance to replace your income if you cannot work due to illness or injury, and long-term care insurance to help pay for your care in case of an extended illness or injury.
• Provide for the transfer of your business at your retirement, disability, or death.
• Minimize taxes, court costs, and unnecessary legal fees.
• Be an ongoing process, not a one-time event. Your plan should be reviewed and updated as your family and financial situations (and laws) change over your lifetime.