Organizing the fundamentals of your estate is like a proper opening in chess. If your pieces aren’t strategically placed from the beginning, it makes success at the end all the more difficult.
Here are five steps you need to take when organizing your estate:
- Update beneficiary designations
Beneficiary designations trump other estate planning documents after death. For example, an IRA or a pension plan’s assets normally aren’t transferred through the will after someone dies. Rather, these assets are distributed according to beneficiary designation. That’s why it is so important to make sure your beneficiary designation forms are filled in correctly.
Review your beneficiary designations regularly – circumstances change over the years, and you want to make sure your beneficiary designations are always up to date. You surely would not want to leave your IRA to your previous spouse or divide your assets among only some of your children, neglecting ones that were born after the original documents were signed.
Remember to show your lawyer your updated estate-planning documents so you get a professional’s “OK” that all is in proper order.
- Designate a legal guardian for your child
Consider the question, who will raise your kids after you die? Designate a legal guardian to take care of your minor or disabled children. Wouldn’t you prefer to make this crucial decision rather than a government-appointed lawyer deciding after you’re gone?
When deciding on a guardian, make sure he is trustworthy and capable. Ask yourself:
- Can he financially afford another child? (This is less of an issue if you have life insurance since the death benefit should provide the financial support for your kids.)
- Will your child get along with the guardian, as well as the guardian’s other children?
- Will the guardian focus on your children’s health, safety, and wellbeing?
- Does the proposed guardian share your values? Is he capable of teaching your children similar lessons and life skills that you would have?
Consider designating a secondary guardian in case the primary guardian becomes unable or unwilling to take care of your children. Also, in some situations it is wise to consider designating different guardians for different children if you have many children, or if your children have diverse needs (i.e. a disabled child).
Discuss the different issues that could arise with the guardian to make sure that he has your children’s best interests in mind before legally assigning him the job.
- Create a Living Will
A Last Will and Testament is a document which deals with the distribution of your assets after your death. A Living Will is a medical directive, which addresses questions such as:
- When you would want/not want CPR?
- Would you want/not want mechanical ventilation? Would you consider being disconnected from a breathing machine?
- Under what circumstances would you want a feeding tube?
- Under what circumstances would you want comfort care (palliative care) without actively prolonging your life?
- Name an executor of your will
You can use either a family member or a professional executor for this job, which includes:
- Finding and managing the deceased person’s assets until they are distributed to their inheritors.
- Deciding whether or not probate is necessary.
- Figuring out who actually inherits the different assets.
- Paying any taxes.
- Overseeing the whole inheritance process.
- Write a Power of Attorney (POA)
What happens if you are alive but incapacitated? Situations like these do arise, and you need to be prepared for anything. This is best done with a Power of Attorney. There are two types: a healthcare POA and a financial POA.
A healthcare POA enables someone else to make healthcare decisions on your behalf. Consider someone that lives close by so he could easily come and assess your situation. Also, make sure that your healthcare POA shares your values and religious beliefs, and will consult with the religious representative of your choice.
A financial POA enables someone to make financial decisions on your behalf. Make sure you choose someone who is detail oriented, knowledgeable in financial matters, and understands how you want your assets to be distributed and used.
Since these two POA address different needs, you may want to appoint different people to make decisions in each area.
Carefully implemented tactics create a strong strategy
Begin to implement all five estate planning steps today, to ensure that all your assets and wishes are properly taken care of. This not only gives you peace of mind that your wishes will be carried out, but also eliminates unnecessary work, time loss, and frustration for your family members.
While planning your estate may seem overwhelming, your heirs’ financial success will depend on your acting today. Share this podcast (on the same topic) with your partner in order to motivate the two of you to act today to protect tomorrow!
Douglas Goldstein, co-author of Rich As A King: How the Wisdom of Chess Can Make You A Grandmaster of Investing, is an avid chess fan, international investment advisor and Certified Financial Planner (CFP®)
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