Estate planning is essentially deciding how you want your assets distributed after
your death. In other words, it’s about deciding, while you’re alive, how you want
your assets to be used to help the people or the organizations that matter most
Plan Ahead Now
Estate planning is an essential consideration for people of all ages – the earlier,
the better. Too many people put it off — sometimes until it’s too late. The time
to begin developing your estate plan is now, otherwise your estate, your assets
and your personal wishes could potentially fall into the hands of your state government.
Here are five important steps to consider as you begin to address estate planning
Build your team.
It’s important to have qualified legal, tax and financial advisors who can provide
you the counsel you need to carry out your wishes properly. You can get boilerplate
will and trust forms, but if there’s a problem with these or your plan, you may
not find out until it’s too late. It may cost your heirs far more to resolve the
problem than it would have cost you to use qualified legal, tax and financial advisors
in the first place.
Make a list of assets.
Create a list of what assets you have and make a note of specific assets that you
want to designate to certain people or organizations.
Who do you want to receive your assets? Who do you want to help, both now and when
you’re gone? Some people start estate planning by talking about taxes. While taxes
are critical to estate planning, most people are more concerned with getting the
right assets to the right heirs at the right time, than about how much their estate
will owe in taxes.
Decide a minimum or maximum pay out.
Now that you have your list of assets and beneficiaries, it’s time to establish
reasonable amounts for inheritances. This is where you decide what your loved ones
or your favorite charities should receive as a minimum amount, or, in some cases,
a maximum amount is noted. There are four ways to transfer assets legally to your
heirs after your death: direct transfer, joint ownership, trusts and probate. Remember:
the purpose of an inheritance is to help those people and/or organizations closest
to you, not to hurt them by leaving them too much or too little.
Make a will.
The first step in probate is to find out whether a valid will exists. If there isn’t
one, state law will settle who gets what. The courts call this the law of intestate
succession. It means the state devises a plan for you if you don’t set up your own
You need a will if you: wish to name your executor, want to control the terms under
which the assets in your estate are distributed, want to specify the guardianship
of any minor children and wish to take advantage of estate tax-saving strategies.
* The tax information in this section of the website is for informational purposes only. It is not intended, and should not be construed, as a recommendation, or legal, tax, or investment advice or used for the purpose of avoiding U.S. tax-related penalties. You should consult your tax advisor to answer questions about your specific situation or needs.