And How to Start the Estate Planning Process
Most people understand the importance of preparing an estate plan yet doing so can be an overwhelming task. However, there are important reasons why, regardless of your age or family situation, you should consider getting the process started sooner rather than later. For the following reasons, don’t wait to speak to an attorney about estate planning.
Reason #1 – An estate plan can be useful while you’re alive.
If you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself, having a solid estate plan in place can help protect your interests because you will have designated a trusted individual to step in and make decisions. Without an estate plan, your family or friends may have to go to court to gain the authority to act on your behalf, and there’s no guarantee that the person acting in this role is the person you would have chosen to do so.
Reason #2 – A well-prepared estate plan gives you agency over what happens with your money after you have passed away.
You likely have ideas about how your assets and possessions should be passed along following your death, but those desires are worthless if they are not properly communicated. Preparing an estate plan allows you to designate how you would like your possessions to be divided between family, friends and/or charities after you die. Providing clear instructions can also reduce unpleasant disagreements among your family members. No one wants to think that the division of their estate will cause a schism in their family after they have passed, but that can be exactly what happens if your wishes are unclear.
Reason #3 – An estate plan allows you to make a lasting impact.
Taking #2 one step further, if you wish to leave a portion of your estate to your favorite charity, it’s wise to incorporate this wish into your estate plan. There are several ways to donate to charity through your estate:
- An appreciated stock donation
- A bequest in your will or revocable trust
- Naming a charity as the beneficiary of your retirement account
- A charitable remainder trust (CRT), in which a chosen beneficiary will receive annual payments for a certain period of time, with the remaining amount donated to a charity
Reason #4 – An estate plan helps avoid the slow and expensive process of resolving a messy estate.
Without proper planning, your estate can take significant time and effort to resolve. In some counties, it may take weeks to get an initial appointment with the probate court to simply begin the process. In the meantime, your family may be unable to pay necessary expenses because your assets remain tied up within the estate.
In addition, probate fees and taxes can be a burden for even relatively small estates. If your family requires legal advice to resolve issues in the estate, there will be additional legal fees. With proper planning, however, much of this delay and added expense can be avoided. Estate planning can help protect your family and ensure they are not put through more frustration than necessary.
Reason #5 – An estate plan can protect your family’s privacy.
In many jurisdictions, wills are considered public record, meaning that anyone can see who was designated as an heir in your will. It’s amazing the number of distant family members and “friends” who sometimes come out of the woodwork to solicit the deceased’s beneficiaries. At the very least, this can cause your family to be bombarded with advertisements from companies trying to sell their services. Proper estate planning can protect your privacy and the privacy of your loved ones.
Reason #6 – A properly structured estate plan can lead to lower taxes.
For many people, the federal estate tax exemption has been raised to a point where it is no longer a concern; however, even if your current estate falls below the current exemption amount, your estate’s future growth or a lowering of the exemption amount in years to come may mean that it is subject to federal taxes. Some states have additional estate or inheritance taxes that must also be planned for. For those who are subject to estate taxes, or who may become so in the future, a properly designed estate plan can help prevent the family from paying more in taxes than necessary.
As an estate planning attorney, I am frequently asked by clients, “Why should I go through all of this when it will only matter to my kids?” I believe this question misses one of the most important aspects of estate planning. Part of the fear of death lies in the uncertainty that surrounds it. Estate planning can be a positive way to confront and reduce that uncertainty. When you go to sleep at night, there is never a guarantee you will wake in the morning, but if you have taken the time to prepare through the estate planning process, you can rest easy knowing that your family will be provided for. Regardless of your specific situation, we are available to help you prepare a customized estate plan to meet your needs.
At Creative Planning, we have a dedicated team that specializes in socially responsible investing and includes an attorney, a CPA and a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner. These professionals are also supported by Creative Planning Legal, with attorneys licensed to practice in multiple states. If you’d like help beginning the estate planning process, or for any other financial matter, please schedule a call.