Estate Planning: Three Important Questions for Managing Your Assets
The cornerstone of good life planning is, unfortunately, thinking about what’s going to happen after you’re gone. For many, it’s too grim a subject to be discussed, but without the proper road map for managing your assets, you could be opening a door to family squabbles, lawsuits and confusion over your intentions.
Quite simply, estate planning is a big umbrella, and under it you’ll find numerous tasks, from creating a will to choosing medical power of attorney to starting a trust. Despite the importance of estate planning, some statistics show that only 35% of Americans have a will, and only 21% have a trust.
Your first goal in estate planning is developing an airtight plan that answers as many questions as possible and leaves no doubt on what you intended for your family, friends or even your favorite charity. Taking a page from journalism, here are three W’s—who, what and when—of estate planning:
Who Will Manage Your Estate?
The “who” portion of estate planning involves two types of people: the ones to receive your assets when you die and the person (or people) you’ll choose to manage your estate. Your beneficiary list is probably the simplest part of the equation—you probably already have some idea of who should receive what. Finding the right person to act as executor of your estate is another story.
For some, creating a trust is the best shortcut for distributing assets to beneficiaries. For others, choosing a well-liked friend or family member to act as executor is their best bet. Being an executor is a lot of responsibility. Here are just some of the common tasks for executors:
- File an inventory of the estate’s assets.
- Pay all estate taxes.
- Notify all credit card companies, banks and government agencies about the decedent’s death.
- Distribute assets.
- Represent the estate in court.
Being an executor can be a lot of work. Whoever takes on this responsibility must be fair and diplomatic, and have the time, ambition and common sense to correctly distribute assets. If you’re afraid that family members might fight over what you have, making a huge headache for the executor, consider getting a good friend or outsider to manage your estate.
What Makes Up Your Estate?
The “what” part of estate planning revolves around your assets. What makes up an estate? What can you pass on? Examples include property, jewelry, furniture and cars, all the way down to Roth IRAs, bank accounts, life insurance payouts, and stocks and bonds. After you’ve deducted any debts, your estate is the fair market value of what’s left. Knowing what’s taxable, what isn’t and how much in taxes must be paid is a big part of the estate planning equation.
When Should You Start in Estate Planning?
A number of clients know that they have to start estate planning, but they just don’t know when. If you want to avoid probate costs, which can eat up as much as 15% of your estate, and you don’t want any confusion or angst over where your assets should go, the answer is now.
Wills, Trusts and Medical Power of Attorney
If you’re younger and you’re starting a family, the bare minimum of estate planning tasks is creating a will and choosing medical power of attorney. A will simplifies the estate distribution process, especially if you don’t have a substantial amount of assets. However, a will does not sidestep probate, which is something to carefully consider.
With medical power of attorney, if something happens and you’re unable to make decisions, you’ll need a trusted person (e.g., a spouse or child) to make care decisions for you. Medical power of attorney identifies that person.
If you’re a bit older and/or you have substantial assets and don’t want your beneficiaries to access them until they reach a certain age or point in time, it may be time to form a living trust. A living trust is a legal document that lists your assets and when your beneficiaries can receive them. A trust has substantial benefits, from avoiding probate to giving you more control over the estate distribution process. You can change it when necessary and even adjust assets throughout your lifetime.
The reputation of estate planning as unpleasant and complicated has taken a toll on participation, with a recent CNBC survey showing that one-third of people interviewed with more than $1 million in investable assets had not used a professional to plan for their estate. However, with a head start, a clear-cut plan and a sense of purpose, you can move past planning your estate and on to growing and protecting your wealth.
If you’re ready to move forward with an estate plan, please contact us at (816) 285-9000 or visit our site at www.buttonwoodfg.com.