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Estate Planning is the means by which you protect and provide for your family and others close to you. Estate planning is like a road map of your financial goals, both now and after death. Your estate plan can affect the way you live, especially in retirement years. And it can make a real difference in the future welfare of your spouse, children and others you care about.
Estate Planning Fundamentals
1. Gather key information BEFORE meeting with your attorney.
A good record-keeping system and some preliminary work on your part will save time and help reduce the legal cost associated with the development of your estate plan. Before visiting with your attorney, it would be wise to take some time to gather the information he or she will need to draft your will or trust documents. By planning ahead, you'll save legal fees. Most important, you will feel confident that your attorney has the information necessary to help ensure that these important documents reflect your intentions accurately.
Your Information Checklist: The checklist below can serve as a frame of reference as you assemble the information your attorney will need. Of course, as you proceed you'll probably find it necessary to supply additional information pertinent to your particular situation.
2. Ask yourself key questions about potential scenarios.
If possible, outline how you want your property to pass in each of the following situations:
Consider how you would respond to the following questions:
3. Make certain that your estate planning documents reflect your intentions clearly.
This avoids misunderstandings later—and ensures that a special piece of jewelry or a favorite painting or photograph goes to the individual you have in mind.
Specifically list items of personal property you want particular individuals to have upon your death if you predecease your spouse, and what other dispositions you would make if your spouse predeceases you. Don't underestimate the importance of this step. It can be a mistake to assume that people will simply "work things through" on their own. Often it's helpful to discuss openly with family members and close friends your desire for them to have items of sentimental as well as monetary value.
List all charitable organizations (including schools and universities) you expect to mention in your estate plan and the type or amount of property you intend them to receive. Note whether or not you already have indicated your intentions to the planned recipient.
Keep in mind that will and trust documents are subject to change at any time according to your direction. The birth of a child, for example, your decision to support a particular cause or charitable organization, a divorce, or a host of other situations can be the reason for a change in your plans. Your attorney can explain what "life events" should prompt a review of your plans to ensure there continuing accuracy. So don't be concerned that decisions you make now cannot be modified later should circumstances change. Think of your estate plan as a flexible tool you can use to become part of the future of those you care about.
4. Think about who you might appoint as executor of your estate.
This is an important decision, since the executor is responsible for distributing your assets in the way you specify. The most obvious choice for many individuals is the spouse or oldest child, but you may wish to ask your attorney to explain other options.
Some individuals, perhaps unwilling to involve a "stranger" in managing their affairs after death, feel more comfortable naming co-executors. This designation combines an objective professional (a Trust Company officer or an attorney, for example) with input from a family member. Again, your attorney can help you decide what's most appropriate for you.
Next Steps: Meet our team online and call or email to set up a time for your free consultation. Or contact us at 206-812-5176 or 800-233-2328, ext. 5176 with any questions.