Estate planning is a task that people tend to put off, as any discussion of “the end” tends to be off-putting. However, those who leave this world without their financial affairs in good order risk leaving their heirs some significant problems along with their legacies.
No matter what your age, here are some things you may want to accomplish this year with regard to estate planning.
1. Create a will if you don’t have one. Who doesn’t have a will? You might be surprised. Some tremendously wealthy people have passed away without leaving a valid will. For example, Pablo Picasso and even Howard Hughes!
It is startling how many people never get around to this, even to the point of buying a will-in-a-box at a stationery store or setting one up online. A recent Lawyers.com survey of 1,022 Americans found that just 35% had wills. (For that matter, only 18% had some kind of trust.)
A solid will drafted with the guidance of an estate planning attorney may cost you more than the will-in-a-box, but may prove to be some of the best money you ever spend. A valid will may save your heirs from some expensive headaches linked to probate and ambiguity.
2. Complement your will with related documents. Depending on your estate planning needs, this could include some kind of trust (or multiple trusts), durable financial and medical powers of attorney, a living will and other items.
You should know that a living will is not the same thing as a durable medical power of attorney. A living will makes your wishes known when it comes to life-prolonging medical treatments, and it takes the form of a directive. A durable medical power of attorney authorizes another party to make medical decisions for you (including end-of-life decisions) if you become incapacitated or otherwise unable to make these decisions.
3. Review your beneficiary designations. Who is the beneficiary of your IRA? How about your 401(k)? How about your annuity or life insurance policy? If your answer is along the lines of “Mm … you know … I’m pretty sure it’s…” or “It’s been a while since …”, then be sure to check the documents and verify who the designated beneficiary is.
When it comes to retirement accounts and life insurance, many people don’t know that beneficiary designations take priority over bequests made in wills and living trusts. If you long ago named a child now estranged from you as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy, he or she will receive the death benefit when you die – regardless of what your will states.
Time has a way of altering our beneficiary decisions. This is why some estate planners recommend that you review your beneficiaries every two years.
In some states, you can authorize transfer-on-death designations. This is a tactic against probate: TOD designations may permit the ownership transfer of securities (and in a few states, forms of real property, vehicles and other assets) immediately at your death to the person designated. TOD designations are sometimes referred to as “will substitutes” but they usually pertain only to securities. Read More