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Preserving your assets: Do you have the right estate plan in place?

If it’s been a while since you’ve reviewed your estate plan, or if you haven’t yet prepared one, there’s no better time than the present to make sure your future wishes are carried out. A little planning now can go a long way toward preserving your legacy, protecting your assets, minimizing future taxes and — most importantly — ensuring peace of mind for you and your loved ones.

Estate Planning Basics
From a young child’s custodial account to your home or a family business, nearly everyone owns something that has value. A documented estate plan lets you control what happens to these assets after you’re gone. At the very least, an estate plan should include a will, a healthcare proxy that designates someone to make medical decisions on your behalf, and a power of attorney that lets you decide who will control your finances in the event that you become incapacitated.

As you experience different life stages, such as marriage, homeownership, blended families and retirement, your goals may change, too — and that can mean adjustments to your estate plan. To help get you started, here is a checklist of estate planning items you should consider and review on a regular basis.

A Will.
The cornerstone of any estate plan, a will contains your intentions for who your property should go to after you die. You can also name guardians for minor children and distribute gifts to specific charities. In addition, it contains instructions for your executor, the person you designate as responsible for administering the wishes you’ve outlined in your plan.

Trusts.
Not every estate plan needs a trust, but a trust can be a useful complement to a will. It can help by specifying how and when your assets are to be distributed.

Healthcare Directives.
Define your wishes for medical care now in case you become unable to make decisions for yourself in the future. It’s also a good idea to prepare a signed HIPAA privacy release. Doing so will allow family members or other individuals to access crucial information about your health and care and provide directive to healthcare workers in the event you’re unable to do so.

Beneficiaries.
Your will includes the names of the people you’ve designated to receive certain benefits, as described in your will. Ensure that all of your beneficiaries on insurance policies, retirement accounts and bank accounts are up to date.

Take Inventory.
Take stock of physical, financial and digital assets, including accounts and passwords, and keep this information organized in one place to make it easier for those handling your affairs later.

Power of Attorney and Executor.
If you have named one, confirm they are still able and willing to perform their duties. Otherwise, ask someone you trust to take on this responsibility.

Funeral Arrangements.
Outline specific wishes as well as instructions for paying funeral-related expenses.

Contact Information.
Compile a list of the most up to-date contact information for family members, friends and trusted advisors.

Keep in mind that without a current estate plan, a difficult time for your loved ones can be made even more challenging. Without a will, you risk giving power to the state to decide what to do with your property – this is called intestate succession – causing costly delays for your loved ones. In this situation, your wishes may not be taken into account. 

Estate planning doesn’t have to be expensive, though. A simple will can cost as little as a few hundred dollars, while the cost of preparing more advanced estate planning documents can run higher. However, the peace of mind estate planning can provide is invaluable, and it’s the best way to preserve your legacy and protect your heirs. We recommend meeting with your legal and financial advisors to discuss the best way to plan your estate and keep it current.