September 19, 2017
 
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Plan the Plan—Work the Plan

If we’re being honest about it, no one really wants to plan his or her estate. Thinking about what happens after we die is not a pleasant topic for even the hardiest amongst us. However, thinking about it terms of how you want to live can take the edge off and help you plan with enthusiasm. Where to start? The answer to the question is dependent on which financial issues you need help with—who do you want to inherit your assets, who do you want to make medical decisions for you? Estate planning can easily be broken down into four components and an assessment of your needs will determine where to begin.

 

1. Will—A will is a legal document detailing, to the world, where your assets go, who oversees that your requests are carried out, and if necessary, establish guardianship of your minor children. Without a will, the laws of the state in which you reside, will decide for you, even if you have a surviving wife and children. This can be costly, both in financial terms and family relationships.

2. Durable Power of Attorney—This is a living document, which can be changed as circumstances dictate, which establishes a representative to act on your behalf should you become ill, incapacitated or otherwise unable to manage your affairs. You set the limits of power—from something as minor as paying the bills to major decisions involving money management.

3. Living Will—This is your written intentions of what medical treatment you want or don’t want. It can include everything from routine tests and medications to blood transfusions and major surgery. It is worthwhile to take considerable time preparing a living will as family members, as well as hospitals, can challenge the language and intent of the document.

4. Medical Durable Power of Attorney—Commonly referred to as a health care proxy, this document authorizes your designee to make medical decisions on your behalf. Ideally this person must be comfortable with your wishes and be strong enough to carry them out, even when others object.

 

Who to turn to for help?
The laws, both state and federal, are not concrete. They are as fluid as time. The Tax Relief Act of 2001 ushered in sweeping changes that are being phased in over 10 years. A trusted and competent estate planning professional is essential—no matter the size of your estate. Remember your objective: to minimize your estate and gift taxes and to distribute assets with minimal cost, minimal delay, and probate court.

Think about the church, community, and professional organizations of which you are a member. Most likely there are doctors, dentists, financial planners and lawyers among the membership. Also, consider the financial institutions where you are already conducting business. Look to the professionals for guidance:

Financial Planners assess every aspect of your financial life—savings, insurance, stocks and bonds, tax liability, retirement and estate planning. Their strength is in quantifying your financial goals, developing a strategy on how to meet those goals and reviewing your process. They are also qualified to manage your investment portfolio. For financial planners in your area contact The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) or The Financial Planning Association’s Planner/Search website.

Estate Planning Attorneys focus on estate needs and can draft all of the required legal documentation. Their greatest strength is developing strategies that enable your assets to pass directly to your heirs, in the most tax-efficient manner, without going through probate. Additionally, they can keep your estate abreast of current tax law. For qualified attorneys in your area, contact The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, or the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel.

In the end, clarity with your heirs about your intentions and desires, and having all the legal work settled, lessens the chance for disagreements and conflict after you’ve gone. Isn’t that a worthwhile gift? 

 

 

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