Estate planning is the process by which an individual or family arranges the transfer of assets in anticipation of death. It may seem daunting to plan for your death while you’re still alive but, if you don’t, you will leave your family and loved ones with a lot of information to sort through and settle. It’s important to continue your legacy long after you have passed away by setting up an estate plan that protects your wealth and ensures your family is well taken care of and protected in the long run. Follow the steps below to create a strong estate plan that rids any doubt of how you want your assets distributed past your death.
Step One: Find An Estate Planning Lawyer
Not all estate planning attorneys offer a free consultation about creating your will or estate. At Thomas-Walters, PLLC, we offer a free, no-obligation consultation with anyone interested in creating their estate and making a plan for past their lifetime. Our attorneys are skilled in the practice areas of estate planning and administration, probate, and trusts, ensuring that you as our client will receive the highest standard of care possible.
The cost of preparing a valid will can vary from attorney to attorney. Our team is compassionate, and understands that this might seem like a difficult process for you. For that reason, we guide you through every step of the estate planning process with the utmost transparency, so you will have a thorough understanding of cost.
Step Two: Organize Your Assets
Making a list of the assets you own is crucial, but it’s also important to calculate any debts you may have. A key function of an estate plan is to decide how you will pass your wealth onto heirs, but you will also pass along certain debts if they are not taken care of before you pass.
Make a list of the assets you hold, this can include: real estate property, vehicles, jewelry, art, stocks, and more. Similarly, make a list of your liabilities, which can include: debts, mortgages, credit card balances, etc. This will give your lawyer an idea of your net worth, which will be a helpful tool in determining which type of estate plan will work best for you.
Step Three: Decide Which Estate Plan Works Best For You
Your estate planning attorney will advise you which estate plan works for you best. You may be considering a will or a revocable living trust. There’s no minimum amount of money required for a revocable living trust, although many people falsely think this is an option reserved for the very wealthy.
A revocable living trust eliminates the need to go through court probate, which could be a lengthy process. One of the main benefits of selecting a revocable living trust is that you will appoint a trustee, who will manage the trust upon your passing. The trustee does so without any court involvement.
A will, on the other hand, names guardians for underaged children, provides instructions for how inheritances will be distributed, and explains how other assets will be distributed. Both documents have similarities, but also key differences, so consult with your attorney when choosing.
Step Four: Choose A Health Care Proxy
A health care proxy is an individual chosen to make important health care decisions on your behalf should you become unable to make decisions for yourself. For example, if you suffered a severe car accident and became paralyzed or unable to communicate, your health care proxy would let doctors know your wishes. Without a health care proxy appointed, no one will be left to speak for you if you lose the ability to. This is one of the many reasons why it’s crucial to appoint a trusted loved one as your health care proxy sooner than later, as accidents can happen at any time.
Step Five: Select Beneficiaries
Your beneficiaries are the people or institutions who will ultimately receive your assets in the form of inheritance once you pass away. Proactively naming a beneficiary for each asset or for portions of money is the most wise way to avoid the risk of arguing or disputes once you’ve passed away. It would be difficult for your family members or loved ones to decide on their own what they think your wishes might have been, so it’s best to make your wishes as clear as possible via creating an estate plan or will.
Step Six: Share Your Plans With Your Loved Ones
Finally, once your attorney has finalized your estate plan, you can share the details with your loved ones. Letting family members know ahead of time is a smart decision for making sure everyone understands the conditions of the will or estate plan moving forward, which will mitigate the risk of any discrepancies or disputes in the future.