An “estate” is everything that people own in their own name or with others. Estate planning is the process of anticipating future life events (e.g., incapacity and death), minimizing gift and estate taxes, and distributing assets to loved ones in the manner a donor intends rather than according to state law. Estate planning, ideally, should begin in young adulthood upon the purchase of assets and/or the formation of a family. Below are five estate planning tips to consider:
¨ Write a Will- Ask people to serve in key positions, such as executor and guardian, before you name them in a will. People who die intestate (without a will) default to the “one size fits all” will provided by their state of residence.
¨ Review Estate Planning Documents Regularly-Review and revise documents when tax laws change or due to changes in relationships or economic circumstances. Beneficiary designations on retirement savings plans and life insurance policies also need to be reviewed periodically to make sure that they are current.
¨ Avoid Conflicts in Titling of Assets– Don’t make the mistake of wanting assets to go to one person (e.g., child from a first marriage) named in a will, yet owning them with rights of survivorship with someone else (e.g., a second spouse). In cases where a will conflicts with titling, the title almost always determines the asset’s subsequent owner.
¨ Make Plans for Untitled Personal Property- Consider how you will distribute items where ownership is not identified with a written document. Examples include tools, furniture, books, dishes, collections, and jewelry.
¨ Draft a Durable Power of Attorney- Name an “agent” to handle financial matters in the event of your incapacity. Without one, it may be necessary for your family to seek court appointment as a guardian or conservator if you become incapacitated. This appointment process can be avoided with a durable power of attorney.