People tend to put off estate planning. As a result, they risk dying without leaving their financial affairs in order and handing their heirs a host of potentially significant problems.
The Business Times recently published an article entitled “Use this checklist to get started on your estate planning.” The article discusses some pointers for those averse to buckling down and creating an estate plan.
Create a will if you don’t have one. A 2015 survey found that 54% of Americans ages 55 to 64 and about 70% of Americans ages 45 to 54 don’t have a will in place. A legally valid will could save your heirs from expensive problems with probate.
Add related documents. Depending on your estate planning needs, you may need a trust, durable financial power of attorney and medical powers of attorney, as well as a living will.
Review beneficiary designations. Check your documents and verify the designated beneficiaries. These take priority over the provisions of wills when it comes to retirement accounts, life insurance, and other non-probate assets.
Make a list of assets and debts. Give your heirs an estate planning organizer so that they can reference it if you pass away. List your real property and personal property assets, as well as real estate you own and its value. Also list personal property items that have a monetary worth. You can also list your bank and brokerage accounts, retirement accounts, other investments and insurance policies. Finally, make a list of your credit card debts, mortgage, home equity line of credit, and any consumer loans.
Consider making gifts to reduce the size of your taxable estate. The lifetime individual federal gift, estate, and generation-skipping tax exclusion amount is unified and is set at $5.45 million for this year. So a married couple can transfer up to $10.9 million tax-free.
Reduce, communicate and make wise decisions. Consolidate your IRAs and bank accounts to shorten your list, eliminate statements, reduce paperwork and avoid fees. Tell your heirs which causes and charities you value and select a reliable executor.
Work with an estate planning attorney. Do-it-yourself estate planning is not recommended because there are numerous financial, legal and emotional issues and pitfalls to avoid.
Ok, you’re not a multimillionaire yet. But if you own a business, have a blended family, have a child with special needs, are concerned about dementia or want to pave a smooth road for the loved ones left behind, use this checklist to get going now.
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Reference: The Business Times (Sept. 20, 2016) “Use this checklist to get started on your estate planning”