The last thing many people would equate to intimacy is estate planning. Just ask anyone who’s ever had to face reality after a terminal illness or devastating accident, they will tell you that things become very personal faster than you can say power of attorney. This week, we shed the logistics and focus on the ties that bind and the intimacy of estate planning.
Most of us realized long before we began preparing our will that we wouldn’t live forever. Whether that brutal fact (or sometimes not so brutal) hits us right smack dab in the middle of a proper midlife crisis or if it occurred to us as we watched our youngest child walk up to accept her college degree, forever isn’t an option when it comes to living.
Ideally, those realities are enough to prod us into our estate planning lawyer’s office to cover the legal bases. Specifically, that means our will, any necessary powers of attorney and trusts should take priority in our lives. In fact, the point could be argued that we have a responsibility to our families to keep these documents current.
Estate Planning Isn’t Only for the Wealthy
You’ve lived modestly, saved for retirement and played by the other rules financial analysts insist are crucial. Even then, many believe they don’t have the wealth to justify estate planning. Once you begin delving into your assets, it becomes clear that estate planning isn’t just for millionaires.
Remember the purpose of estate planning is to distribute assets among your beneficiaries. It’s also important for tax purposes and not to mention the avoidance of a lengthy probate process. The probate process will only affect assets in the deceased’s name. It doesn’t include joint property since that goes to the surviving owner. Those who die testate (with a will), the courts will simply acknowledge and properly file the will. Intestate, on the other hand, is when a will doesn’t exist; the courts then make the decisions applicable to state law. By memorializing your wishes, it can help prevent too many hurt feelings within your family – or at least minimize any suspicions of ulterior motives.
The Intimacy of Estate Planning
Before you begin the planning process or if you’re updating a will, it’s always a good idea to list your assets. Don’t forget to include property you own, retirement accounts, stocks, cash on hand, jewelry, antiques and life insurance policies; it simply provides perspective as you move forward. Also, you might want to start thinking about who will inherit your estate. This way, once you meet with your estate planning lawyer, you’re more likely to provide her with a complete snapshot, so to speak, of what your estate looks like.
Even as the tax laws change often – both on state and federal levels – those whose estates do not exceed $5 million don’t have to worry about federal estate taxes. Keep in mind, some states have their own estate taxes, again, this is something you’ll want to discuss with your estate planning lawyer.
It’s really important to cover these bases and put the wheels in motion that can save your family a lot of unnecessary stress. It’s challenging, of course, but because estate planning is very personal and intimate, the last thing you want to do is put this into a court’s hands to decide for you.