You may receive some estate planning advice that says, “write a will, get it notarized, etc.” You already knew how to do that. What you need is solid financial advice before you get into the mechanics of creating the binding document that will achieve your goals. You should discuss your circumstances with a financial advisor and attorney before putting anything on paper.
Go into the estate meeting with your advisor ready to talk about these items:
List your assets and liabilities
Get everything down on paper, including cars, homes, high value jewelry, stocks, retirement accounts -- anything you own that is worth a significant amount of money. Now, list your liabilities, debts, loans, mortgages, and business credit lines. You’ll also want to note insurance policies and other benefits.
List your goals for your estate plan
Think about how you want your assets distributed and to whom. Do you want to support your favorite charity in perpetuity? Do you want to help your grandkids through college? Do you want to consider including provisions regarding your care should you become incapacitated? Whatever your wishes, make sure you are very clear.
Consider your family structure
Do you have stepchildren and ex-spouses? Have you been caring for any foster children? Have you been caring for a grandchild, niece, or nephew? With the help of a financial planner and an attorney, you can structure a will or trust that accounts for everyone you wish to provide for. The more clear and specific you can be the better, as you will reduce the amount of confusion among your family. Otherwise everyone who thinks they deserve something from your estate may try to extract it in probate.
Revocable Trusts in Estate Planning
Not all the discussions have to involve the distribution of assets via a will after you are gone. You may also discuss setting up living wills and trusts. Your lawyer can create a document that will place your assets into a trust that you can control, or that you can turn over to someone else to control. While you are alive, you can change the terms of the trust.
You can specify in the trust what happens to your assets if you become incapacitated or you die. The trustee (the person to whom you ceded control of the trust) will make decisions on your behalf. Once you die, the trust becomes irrevocable. The trustee will distribute your assets and pay off any debt, much like a will.
There are many factors to consider when creating a will or trust. Before diving into the estate planning process, you should consult with a seasoned financial planner and estate planning lawyer. They will help you make sure you’ve covered all the bases and do much more than simply fill out paperwork.
About Robert Henderson and Lansdowne Wealth Management
Robert Henderson is the President of Lansdowne Wealth Management, an independent, fee-only financial planning firm in Mystic, CT. His firm specializes in financial planning and investment management for retirement, with a special focus on the particular needs of women that are divorced or widowed. He is an Accredited Asset Management Specialist and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst. Mr. Henderson can be reached at 860-245-5078 or bhenderson@LWMwealth.com. You can also view his personal finance blog, The Retirement Workshop at https://LWMwealth.com/blog and the firm’s website at https://LWMwealth.com.
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