Estate Planning Basics

No one wants to think of the inevitable, but there are some basic points regarding estate planning we should all know. There are complex trusts and gifting strategies that can be incorporated, but let’s talk about first things first. Do you have a will? How do you own your assets? Are your beneficiaries updated in your insurance policies or retirement plans?

A will is your last will and testament, which spells out your wishes when you become deceased. With a properly set-up will, your assets will transfer to the beneficiaries you desire. Without a will your assets will be distributed according to state law, and your spouse or children may not receive all of your assets.  Additionally, if you have children you will need to appoint a guardian to take care of them. It is important to see a qualified attorney to handle this for you. Do not attempt this yourself. We can refer you to an attorney that best fits your needs.

The way you own assets also affects the way assets are distributed upon death, such as your house. The two ways are tenants in common and joint tenancy. As tenants in common, your share of the house is passed to your heirs designated in your will. With joint tenancy, your share is passed to the surviving joint tenant, regardless of what your will states. It is important to make sure your assets are owned in the way that best suits your needs.

Life insurance is separate from your will. You will need to designate a beneficiary when purchasing a policy, and the same applies to your retirement accounts. Upon death the proceeds will be automatically transferred to your beneficiaries. This is why it is critical to update your beneficiaries periodically. Can you imagine if you are divorced and never changed your life insurance beneficiary who is now your ex-spouse? The answer is obvious – your ex-spouse will be very happy!

Many people tend to think that estate planning is only for the wealthy or they don’t need an estate plan. It can be a costly mistake to feel this way, especially since simple wills are not very expensive, and it doesn’t cost money to change your beneficiaries of your life insurance or retirement plans.