Estate planning involves distributing your assets to people or causes according to your wishes should anything happen to you. This helps minimize legal complications and tax issues.
Whilst this planning applies to more than just property or ‘real estate’, property is usually at the center of an individual’s wealth or assets.
Although it can be irksome to think about, putting together an estate plan is something that should be done by everybody, not just the wealthy. The earlier the better!
Planning your estate whilst you are in good mental and physical health provides a sense of security for your family.
What would happen if you were no longer here? You can imagine what effect this would have on your family. You can save your loved ones the further distress of guessing what you wanted, or possibly even disputing distribution of assets with other parties.
Estate plans made during an illness that may affect your capacity to think straight can be challenged, complicating matters for beneficiaries.
The better we prepare for such an eventuality beforehand, the easier it is on the family should something happen.
Steps in planning your estate:
1. Take stock of all your material possessions (technically referred to as ‘estate’), and determine their value.
Typical items comprising the estate include: house(s) and land; bikes, cars, etc; cash-in-hand; savings accounts, pension accounts; certificates of deposits; stocks, bonds, and mutual funds; insurance and annuities; employee benefits; jewelry, furniture, art collections; ownership rights/interests in businesses; and claims against others.
Mind you, the list is not exhaustive and your debts and obligations to others are also a part of your estate.
2. Line up the details of your beneficiaries’ names, addresses, and ages. In addition, you should determine who should be the trustees/guardians in case the beneficiaries are minors at the time of planning the estate.
3. Identify an executor of the estate.
This can be done with the help of a lawyer or legal advisor.
4. Prepare any legal documents such as divorce decrees, previous wills, deeds of real estate property, and latest tax returns before you consult a professional estate planner.
Though small estates might be easy to plan, it is advisable to take the help of professional estate planners, including lawyers and CPAs, to explore all the possibilities to reduce tax incidence.
As a last side-note, estate planning is not a one-time affair. Any change in your marital status, death of beneficiaries, a birth of a child, or changes in the law will require a review of the plan.