Stop Wasting Time and Get Your Estate Affairs In Order

By on July 7, 2018
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It’s February, and surely by now you have established your estate plan or reviewed your existing plan. After all, it was on your January to-do list! If you haven’t exactly crossed that item off the list yet, it’s probably because it seems like a time-consuming and daunting task. We here at FinancialSafetyNet understand those feelings, and to coincide with this month’s time management theme, we have put together some tips to help you get your estate affairs in order without spending a lot of time and money. Now that you don’t have any more excuses, let’go ahead and get started.

Estate Planning in 6 Simple Steps

Whether you are young or old, wealthy or not, you need a plan to handle your assets if you become incapacitated or die. It’s never too early, or late, to get started. Here are a few tips that will save you time and money throughout the process.

1. Gather and Organize Your Personal Information

Gathering all of your important information, such as “important papers” and financial documents, will help you get organized and prepare for meetings with your estate-planning professional.

“Important Documents “

Do you know where to find your birth certificate and social security card? What about your marriage certificate? If you are like me, you have no idea. Now is the best time to locate all of your important papers and keep them together in a safe place. Here is a list of “important documents” you may need while planning your estate.

  • Driver’s license
  • Social security card
  • Birth, death, and marriage certificates
  • Immigration or naturalization records
  • Adoption records
  • Divorce papers
  • Employment records
  • Education records
  • Military records
  • Titles and deeds

Additionally, you may want to make the following information available to your family or caregivers in case they need to act on your behalf.

  • Contact information of close friends and relatives
  • Contact information of your lawyer and financial advisor
  • Your doctor’s contact information, along with a list of medications you take
  • Location of your “important documents”

Financial Information

Gathering your financial information at the beginning of the estate planning process will give you a better idea of what you’re working with and make distribution decisions easier. Here is a short list of important financial documents you may be asked for during the estate planning process.

  • Sources of income and assets (pension, IRAs, 401ks, interest, etc.)
  • Social Security and Medicare information
  • Insurance policy information (life, health, long-term care, home, car)
  • Banks statements and account numbers (checking, savings, credit cards)
  • Investment income (stocks, bonds, property)
  • Last year’s tax return
  • Liabilities (mortgages and debts, property tax, etc.)
  • Credit and debit card information

2. Inventory Assets and Liabilities

Your assets and liabilities are the things you own and things for which you are responsible. Make a list or spreadsheet with the following information:

  • Value of physical assets (real estate, cars, valuable jewelry, artwork, etc.)
  • Bank statements and investment portfolios
  • Insurance policies (cash values and death benefits)
  • Mortgages, credit, and other debt

3. Define Your Goals

While there are more pleasant things to think about than our mortality, defining your estate goals will save you time and money when you meet with an estate-planning attorney. The following questions will get you thinking about how you want your estate distributed and prepare you for the conversation with your attorney.

  • Who do you trust to manage your estate if you become incapacitated, and distribute your assets upon your death?
  • Who do you trust to make healthcare decisions on your behalf?
  • To whom do you want your assets distributed?
  • Who should be named successor beneficiaries if your heirs are not living at the time of your death?
  • Who do trust to care for your minor children?

4. Draft Legal Documents

Many estate-planning documents are fairly standard in format. You can find templates and drafts online for basic documents like wills and trusts. Drafting these documents yourself can save you some money and reduce the cost of developing your estate plan.

Below are some of the more common estate-planning documents; depending on your assets and wishes, you may need one or more of the following documents:

Wills and trusts specify the person(s) you want to inherit your assets.

Advance healthcare directives specify your caregiver and who will act on your behalf if you become incapacitated. Advance healthcare directives can include additional documents you may be familiar with such as a living will and a durable power of attorney.

A living will specifies what kind of care you do or do not want. Living wills give you a say in your healthcare, and relieve your family from having to make difficult decisions regarding your care.
A durable power of attorney specifies the person you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf. Make sure the person you name is willing to make those decisions for you. It’s a big responsibility.

Depending on the complexity of your estate, there may be additional documents that apply to you. Employing qualified estate-planning professionals, such as a lawyer and/or financial advisor, to review your plan can ensure you are on the right track.

5. Hire An Attorney

Estate laws vary by state, as do estate taxes, and it can be time consuming to figure it out and keep up with changes. While you can do a lot of document preparation on your own, your documents and plan must meet specific requirements to be considered legally binding. A qualified estate-planning attorney can review your objectives and ensure your legal documents are prepared correctly.

6. Make It A Family Affair

Many people don’t like to burden their family with difficult matters, but in the end, family is all you have. Ensure your trusted relatives and close friends know where you keep your important papers. Inform them of what to do in case you become incapacitated and cannot speak for yourself, or in case you should die unexpectedly.

Talk to your loved ones throughout the estate planning process and communicate your wishes to them. Ensure the people you choose to manage your affairs when you are gone are prepared to take on the responsibility. Communicating your intentions will ensure there are no surprises and hopefully mitigate potential family feuds.

Once you have established your estate plan, the hard work is finished. All you need to do thereafter is maintain it properly. Review your plan on an annual basis and update it anytime you experience a life-changing event such as the birth of a child, marriage, divorce, death of a spouse, etc.

Don’t Waste Time. Get Started Now!

Without a valid estate plan, the state and their attorneys will mostly likely be in charge of distributing your assets. Your estate could get tied up in probate, which can be a lengthy process. There is no doubt that you have worked hard to build your assets. Doesn’t it makes sense to protect them and ensure your loves ones reap the benefits?

There is no time like the present to get your affairs in order. If you have been putting off this important task because of time or money constraints, just think of the mess you could leave your loved ones if you ignore it. Now that have some tools to get you started, go out there and learn more about estate planning and consult with a qualified professional to ensure you are on the right track.

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