You have spent or will spend your lifetime accumulating assets, keeping them safe, protecting them from taxation and dissipation, and now if you are nearing retirement you may be starting to worry about maximizing your income in retirement. But how much time have you spent planning the eventual distribution of those assets to your loved ones? How do you protect your assets for your family’s use once you are gone? The answer to those questions can be answered in a carefully crafted estate plan consisting of the following:
- Last Will and Testament
- Durable Power of Attorney
- Health Directives
- Power of Attorney for Healthcare.
For your peace of mind and for the benefit of your family relationships, there should be some urgency for you to establish an estate plan or to review what you have in place. Let’s walk through the process of establishing or reviewing your estate plan.
- Estimate the Value of Your Estate – Perhaps you have a personal financial sheet available or you take inventory of your assets on a regular basis and you have this information at your fingertips. If not, it is simple to create a list of all the different accounts/assets and debts that you have and record their value. It will also be important to list how your assets are titled – do you own them solely, jointly, or tenants-in-common. Looking at this list will be a resource to you and the professionals that assist you. With this list, the professional will be able to speak about your individual situation in regard to taxes, diversification, titling, beneficiary designations, etc.
- Determine Family Financial Goals/Needs and Who Will Benefit from Your Estate - Who will eventually inherit your assets is an important determination but also how they will receive the assets is just as important. Sometimes there is concern at what age an individual will be financially responsible to receive an inheritance. This can be different for each individual. Also, you may want to consider a charity or cause that you would like to support and how you want to support them. It is often beneficial to discuss your plan with your heirs. This helps to lay out your wishes and reduces the chances of disagreements when you are gone.
- Choose a Qualified Estate Planning Attorney - You will want to employ the services of an estate planning attorney to draft the documents for your estate plan.
- Choose Your Fiduciaries Wisely - In your Will, you will need to decide who will be the Personal Representative to settle your estate. If you have minor children you will want to determine who will be the guardian if something happens to you. If there is a Trust, you will need to decide on a trustee. You will need to appoint a Durable Power of Attorney. Each one of these positions are a fiduciary. A fiduciary takes on the legal liability of all decisions and actions. The fiduciary can be an individual or a Corporate Fiduciary such as a trust department. The questions one should ask is who has the skills, expertise, time, flexibility, and the ability to make decisions serving as a fiduciary in these positions. People often think it is an honor to serve in these positions when in fact it is truly a great burden.
- Verify Titling and Beneficiary Designations – We are almost done but your estate plan is not complete until you have considered titling and beneficiary designations of all your assets. Be sure to get specific directions from the estate planning attorney on how all assets are to be titled and what beneficiary designations should be made on accounts, IRAs, 401ks, insurance, real estate, etc. An estate plan can easily be undone if titling and beneficiary designations are not coordinated with the estate plan.
- Recognize that Estate Planning is NEVER done – Life never stays the same. Family situations, wealth, tax laws, assets, trust and estate laws are constantly changing. As a result, you need to review your estate plan on a regular basis. We suggest every three years to make sure it is relevant to all the changing variables.
Many are overwhelmed at the thought of getting a plan in place. It is a process that takes some commitment and perseverance; but with the help of professionals, it is a process that everyone needs to go through. At Union Bank, we are committed to helping you through that process. We can assure you that once it is done and in place, you will have peace of mind that your affairs are in order. If you have questions or would like additional information, please feel free to contact me or Doug Koenig. We’d be happy to meet with you.