The Practicalities of Wills and Estate Planning
Although it’s difficult to imagine leaving your loved ones behind, it’s an inevitability that we will all face at some point. It can be helpful to think of estate planning as simply another way of taking care of your family.
Stephany Pedigo, attorney at Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel, views preparing for your death as an act of service to your family. “In taking the time and effort to plan your estate, you relieve stress and show love to your family by clearly letting them know your wishes regarding healthcare directives and displaying that you planned for their financial welfare in a will or trust,” she says.
To help minimize difficult conversations or possible conflict among family members – and lessen estate and inheritance taxes – it’s best to begin making arrangements early. Wills are certainly important, but only a part of estate planning, which also encompasses beneficiaries and trusts as well as healthcare directives and power of attorney documents.
These crucial documents define your wishes in the event that you become medically unable to make decisions, and they appoint people to carry them out.
Julie Davis, an advisor at Raymond James Financial Services, emphasizes the importance of naming beneficiaries and regularly reviewing them. “This includes beneficiaries of both qualified and non-qualified assets, whether invested or held in cash. Oftentimes clients forget to do this on 401(k)s, life insurance policies, small bank accounts, and other miscellaneous assets, or after a life-changing event, like the death of a spouse or a divorce,” she explains.
Without a strategy in place, your estate – and possibly the guardianship of your children – may be decided in probate court, which can be a long and stressful process. As Bobby Futch, an advisor at Patton Albertson & Miller, explains, being proactive is crucial to help guide your family. “Dying without a will can leave your assets subject to the intestacy laws of the state in which you live,” he says. “These laws can lead to asset distributions inconsistent with your wishes.”
Depending on the size of your estate, it may be best to enlist the help of a professional to make sure you’re covering everything you need to. In the meantime, here are a few tips to help you draft your will.
Make a list of all of your assets. This includes property, vehicles, jewelry, furniture, bank and retirement accounts, etc. Make another list of your debts – mortgages, loans, and credit cards. Indicate account numbers, passwords, and locations of paperwork to help make it easier for someone else to handle these affairs.
Select guardians and an executor. Choose someone you trust to serve as guardians for your kids and/or pets, and then choose a backup or two, just in case. This eliminates any confusion, and it may help your children feel more secure if they know they would be going to a safe place. You’ll also need to choose an executor, someone who will be responsible for executing your wishes if you prefer not to use your attorney.
Make copies. You should make at least three copies of your will and associated documents – one to keep for yourself stored in a safe place, one for your partner, and one for your attorney and/or executor. Make sure all the copies are prepared and notarized according to your state’s laws.
Revise your plan. Don’t forget to make changes to your plan after major life events, like getting married, divorced, or having a child. Otherwise, you should update it every few years.