Having a will is one of the cornerstones of good financial management, but before making an appointment with your lawyer take some time to assess your situation and review your estate plan.
Estate Plan: Start With a List
Prepare a list of the financial institutions where your assets are held. Include key contacts – banker, advisor, stockbroker, lawyer, accountant and insurance agent and their contact information. Identify your proxies. Who will exercise Power of Attorney if you become disabled or can’t direct your own personal affairs?
Select an Executor
Choose your executor carefully. If you choose your children or other relative make sure they are willing to shoulder the responsibility. Make sure the person you choose is willing to make the commitment and has the time and skills to look after your affairs. They should also live in the same town or city as you, or at least close by.
Settling an estate can take several months. For these reasons, or for more complicated estates, a common solution is to appoint your lawyer or trust company jointly with a family member.
Who are your Heirs?
List exact names and contact information in your estate plan, as well as their relationship to you. Likewise, if a favorite charity will be a beneficiary write down all the details.
What do you want each of your heirs to receive? Identify gifts. Will any of your heirs require assistance with ongoing income? Discuss options for the transfer of assets and funds during your lifetime and at death.
Guardians and Succession
Give some careful thought to whom you will name as guardians in your estate plan. Prepare a list of those people you would trust to care for your minor children (think also of those who should not have that responsibility).
If you own a business, identify your business succession plans. How should your business interests be distributed and who do you favor to step in to run the show?
Assets, Liabilities and Taxes
Identify your capital assets and their fair market value annually. Which assets could be transferred during your lifetime and which should be transferred only upon death? If beneficial, use tax fee rollovers to your spouse or transfers and Fair Market Value.
Deal with debt. List all your debt obligations and how they should be paid.
Plan for probate fees and capital gains taxes at death. Review life insurance policies that may be used for these purposes.
Keep it Safe
Draw up your will and tell your lawyer where it is to be kept. Give a copy to your executor and discuss anything that may need clarification.
Keep all your important documents in a Safety Deposit Box and identify the location. Be aware that unless you have a co-signor with “right of survivorship,” your box will be sealed until your will is probated. Keep necessary copies easily accessible in your home.
Keep it Current
Review your will whenever family circumstances change, such as marriage, divorce, a birth or death among your beneficiaries or a significant change in your assets.
An estate that can’t be settled promptly can cause needless delays, financial hardship and legal problems for your heirs.
With a little attention and forethought you can avoid any problems and fighting among heirs (you think it won’t happen, but it does) and your assets will be distributed exactly as you intend them to be.
What’s your estate plan?