If the last year has taught us anything it is that we are not in control of everything in our lives. While I never want my clients to live in fear, it is imperative that we prepare for unexpected events.
As a mom of two young children myself I know that parents want nothing more than to care for our families, even if we are not there. You save and invest to meet a variety of goals during your lifetime: college for your children, long vacations, a comfortable
WRITE A WILL - If you were to die “intestate” – without a last will and testament – the state in which you live would determine how your property was distributed and who would care for your children. The state’s decisions may not match what you had in mind at all. A will allows you to have control after you are gone.
GOING BEYOND A WILL - While a will is an essential component of estate planning, it’s often not enough. You may need to create other documents, such as a living trust, which, among other benefits, enables your estate to avoid probate, a time-consuming and public process that can lead to disputes among your heirs and others. A living trust lets you place highly specific conditions on how and when you want your assets distributed. Some other important legal documents include a power of attorney, which allows you to appoint a person or organization to handle your affairs if you can’t do so yourself, and a health care directive, which lets you name someone to make health care decisions on your behalf, should you become physically or mentally incapacitated.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT EXECUTOR OR TRUSTEE - An executor or trustee is responsible for executing your estate plan. This includes distributing property to your beneficiaries and paying off any debts and taxes your estate may owe, among other tasks. The role of executor or trustee is so important, you need to choose someone who is reliable, trustworthy, and knows your wishes. This can be a family member, friend, or trust company.
NAMING PROPER BENEFICIARIES - Many of your assets – 401(k), IRA, life insurance, bank accounts etc. allow you to name a beneficiary. These beneficiary designations are powerful, often superseding the instructions in your will. If circumstances change in your life, such as new children, or divorce or remarriage, you may well want to change beneficiaries. You may also list contingent beneficiaries. It’s easy to do – but it’s also easy to overlook. I suggest reviewing your beneficiary designations once a year.
UPDATE OWNERSHIP OF ASSETS - A change in your family situation or changes in the laws governing income and estate taxes could require you to update ownership designations of financial assets. Legal documents can be complicated. You need to work closely with your tax, legal and financial professionals to create and monitor a plan that follows your values and fulfills your wishes. Your plan should be one that you can communicate effectively to your loved ones. Surprises are often pleasant in many areas of life– but estate planning is not one of them.
Edward Jones, its employees and financial advisors are not estate planners and cannot provide tax or legal advice. Your should consult your estate-planning attorney or qualified tax advisor regarding your situation.
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Caitlin Davis, CFP®, AAMS®
Financial Advisor, Edward Jones