If you're starting the process of planning your estate and you're finding that making decisions about your end-of-life affairs is more depressing, daunting, or difficult than you thought it would be . . . I have a few tips to help you.
Because the process can be so tough, I never recommend using a DIY estate plan approach. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney gives you the benefit of leaning on someone who has already helped many people make these same decisions. They know the steps necessary and the tricks to make things easier along the way.
First, you need to think about who you trust, and I mean really trust, to make decisions for you. These people make your decisions if you are incapacitated, die, or otherwise cannot or do not wish to handle your affairs. Often, the best person to handle finances, medical decisions, and settle your estate won't be the same person, so you'll likely need to have a few people in mind.
Second, you'll need to determine who gets what when you pass away, as a key part of estate planning is choosing your beneficiaries. You may be straight forward and just want everything to pass to your spouse or children, but some situations are different, such as with blended families or if you do not have next-of-kin.
Third, create your list of all of your financial accounts, even if they are jointly owned. This information will prove critical to whoever handles your finances should the need arise, especially if you have hard-to-find accounts.
Fourth, if you have previously listed beneficiaries in an estate plan, make sure to review them to ensure they are still relevant and up to date. If an insurance-policy designation names a deceased person, for example, that policy has to go through probate, costing your estate money.
Fifth, locate your property deeds. Many times, estate plans transfer ownership of property to another person or into a trust, and copies of the deeds will allow that process to go faster.
Sixth, and one that most people don't like to think about, you have to consider funeral arrangements. Trust me, as hard as this can be, it will make a world of difference to your loved ones if something happens to you. There are even pre-paid funeral plans you can discuss with the funeral director and other ways to ease this future burden.
Seventh, find an experienced estate planning attorney local to you, someone who knows the law and can assist you in making the best decisions for you and your estate. Remember, if you own property in more than one state, you need to find a lawyer in those other states to help you with the planning around those properties. Your local attorney may be able to give you a referral.
Eighth, and one of the last steps in the process, you sign your estate planning documents, typically multiple copies of each one other than your Last Will and Testament and Trusts. This ensures copies for everyone who may need them later on.
Ninth, and such an important part to remember: store your signed documents somewhere safe and accessible to your loved ones should they need them for whatever reason.
Last, but essential to the process, is talking to your family about your decisions and to tell them exactly what you want to happen if you are incapacitated or pass away. If you find this to be too difficult to do face-to-face, writing a letter that can be read when the time comes can be another option.
If you have more questions about creating your estate plan or have an existing plan to review or update, feel free to contact us at (260) 969-1177 or click here to set up your initial consultation.