Your estate is everything you own. Estate planning deals with what happens to your assets after you die. Even if you are a person of modest means, you have an estate and several strategies to choose from to make sure that your assets are distributed as you wish and in a timely way. Your estate plan should be updated every few years or when you divorce, remarry, or become widowed.
Start by locating and organizing your financial records. Make sure they are safe and accessible. It's probably a good idea to file copies of wills, living wills, and powers of attorney in more than one place.
Prepare a financial statement – a list of what you own (your assets) and what you owe (your liabilities). This important planning tool will tell you how much money you have available and help identify your estate planning needs. It should include wills, trusts, and other methods of providing the orderly transfer of assets after death.
Your estate consists of all your property, including:
- Your home and other real estate.
- Tangible property such as cars and furniture.
- Intangible property like insurance, bank accounts, stocks, pension and social security benefits.
10 Things Estate Planning Can Do for You:
- Provide for your immediate family.
- Get your property to beneficiaries quickly.
- Plan for incapacity.
- Minimize expenses.
- Choose executors/trustees for your estate.
- Ease the strain on your family.
- Help a favorite cause.
- Reduce taxes on your estate.
- Provide for people who need help and guidance.
- Make sure your business continues smoothly.
There are a number of ways to distribute your estate:
- By giving it away as gifts during your lifetime.
- By passing it via trust, either during your life or at your death.
- By passing it along through joint ownership.
- By passing some wealth through life insurance.
- By distributing your estate via a will.
Pro Seniors has several informative fact sheets covering various aspects of estate planning. A certified financial planner and/or an attorney who specializes in estate planning or elder law can help with estate planning.