For some people, the term “estate planning” may seem like a concern for only the wealthiest of individuals. Or it might feel like something to be addressed later in life, when you’ve presumably accumulated more money and property.
But, in reality, anyone with assets of any kind should consider an estate plan.
If you own a home, have children, or contribute to a retirement account, chances are you — and the closest people in your life — could benefit from having an estate plan in place. It might help your loved ones avoid a host of financial and administrative headaches.
You may also be surprised to learn it’s not just about preparing for what happens when you die. An estate plan can help protect you and your family should you become incapacitated for any reason.
Less than half of U.S. adults are prepared
On life’s grand to-do list, thinking about (much less planning for) one’s demise doesn’t necessarily rank high on the fun factor. Cleaning the gutters or organizing the pantry might feel like more appealing ways to spend a sunny afternoon. But the truth is, the future is unpredictable.
If you haven’t made time to create an estate plan, you’re not alone. A survey from Caring.com found that only 42% of adults in the U.S. have some kind of estate planning documents, like a will or a living trust.
Doug Ewing, a Certified Financial Planner® and director of Advanced Markets with Transamerica, believes people avoid this important task for a number of reasons. He lists perceived expense and the aforementioned belief that it’s only for the wealthy as potential rationale.
“Also, it can feel overwhelming, so people procrastinate,” Ewing says.
Where to begin
The process of making an estate plan can, indeed, feel overwhelming—and there are certainly complexities that will likely require consulting with the appropriate tax and legal professionals. But The Motley Fool breaks it down into a more digestible set of tasks.
Key steps to think about:
1) Write a will
Essentially, decide who you would want to receive your possessions when you die and then get it on paper. And it’s not just about your stuff.
“In addition to a will, some written direction about who you’d want to care for your kids is a good place to start,” Ewing says.
The value of your estate, types of assets, and where you reside may play into how simple or complex your will needs to be.
2) Consider establishing a trust
As The Motley Fool points out, for some “a simple will ends up leading to time-consuming, expensive legal processes such as probate (the court proceedings to make sure your estate is handled appropriately in the eyes of the law).”
Assets outlined and documented in a trust may ultimately get to your heirs sooner than those covered in a standard will. A financial professional can help you determine if a trust suits your circumstances.
3) Prepare for incapacity
People in the U.S. are living longer than previous generations. According to averages compiled by data from the Social Security Administration, a woman turning 65 today can expect to live to 86.6 years of age. The life expectancy for a man turning 65 today is 84.4 years of age.
“The stuff that used to kill us—like cancer, heart disease, and stroke—doesn’t always kill us anymore,” Ewing says. “As we live longer, we’re more at risk for dementia and other medical conditions that can impact our legal capacity.” The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, with that number potentially climbing to 16 million by 2050.
For that reason, you’ll need to think about what would happen if you were unable to manage your affairs. Seek counsel on powers of attorney and advance medical directives.
4) Designate your beneficiaries — and keep it up to date
Naming primary and contingent beneficiaries on your retirement assets is an important — and relatively simple — part of estate planning. Your beneficiary designations actually supersede a will, so it’s a good idea to review beneficiary designations with a financial professional annually. The Advanced Markets Group compiled a useful beneficiary worksheet with points to consider.
5) Watch out for taxes
While not an issue for everyone, estate taxes can have a major impact on how much goes to your heirs. The Motley Fool notes, “A few mistakes can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars being taken away from your children and going to your least favorite relative -- Uncle Sam.”
With the right strategy, guided by certified tax and legal professionals, you may be able to reduce or eliminate estate taxes.
6) Stay current
Life happens. Marriage, divorce, the birth of children, and other events will of course affect how you manage and adjust your estate plan. So it’s a good idea to make periodic reviews part of your routine.
There are many things to consider in creating your estate plan. And, admittedly, the process may seem daunting. But taking action now can help protect what you’ve worked hard for — and protect your legacy for those you love.
The Advanced Markets Group’s Guide to Estate Planning outlines in greater detail some of the critical aspects to consider as you think about your plan.
Neither Transamerica nor its agents or representatives may provide tax, investment or legal advice. Anyone to whom this material is promoted, marketed, or recommended should consult with and rely on their own independent tax and legal advisors and financial professional regarding their particular situation and the concepts presented herein.
Things to Consider:
- Consider designating beneficiaries on your retirement assets an important part of estate planning. Review designations annually with a financial professional.
- An estate plan isn’t just about preparing for death. Preparing for incapacity plays an important role.
- As life circumstances change with time, your estate planning strategies should evolve to meet your needs.