Creating an estate plan can take stock of today’s priorities while creating a legacy by clarifying intentions. This could mean providing for your family, supporting charitable organizations, or providing a means for future generations to know about your passions. Estate planning also addresses tax issues and can be used to reduce court involvement with your estate, according to a recent article from Worth, “Take Charge of Your Legacy With an Estate Plan.”
For most people, considering death is uncomfortable, but your estate plan is essential to those loved ones taking care of your estate. Nearly all wealthy Americans expect to leave money or other assets to their children. People who don’t consider themselves wealthy also intend to leave property to their loved ones.
Consider what happens when no estate planning is done. It took six years to settle the $156 million estate of singer Prince, who died without a will in 2016. A jury only recently finished determining the inheritance of Aretha Franklin, who left conflicting wills after she died in 2018. While the estate was being decided, it dwindled from an estimated $80 million to $6 million.
Having an estate plan can also alleviate anxiety, with a survey showing individuals with investible assets of $1 million—$10 million feeling more in control of their finances once they have an estate plan in place.
Creating an estate plan may be easier if you address parts individually. You may even have some parts in place already, such as details about ownership of bank or investment accounts and beneficiary designations.
All assets need to be recorded, including digital assets. The estate plan should include information on life insurance proceeds because there may be adverse tax implications for the estate if they’re not appropriately structured. For instance, life insurance proceeds are generally exempt from federal income taxes; they are included in the estate and could potentially bump the estate’s value above the federal estate tax exemption. This can be avoided by transferring ownership of the policy to another person or establishing an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust. Any transfer of life insurance policies made within three years of death is subject to federal tax, so this step needs to be considered carefully with the help of an estate planning attorney.
Don’t overlook the emotions of loved ones. Items with sentimental value often cause family strife, so create a distribution plan for possessions. Your last will and testament should include jewelry, artwork, and family heirlooms.
Part of your estate plan addresses what would happen if you become incapacitated. This includes Do-Not-Resuscitate instructions and other wishes for medical care. Everyone over 18 should have a Power of Attorney in place so someone can manage their legal and financial affairs in case of incapacity. There are different types of POAs; your estate planning attorney will know which best suits your needs.
Estate planning is a time to speak with family members about the role they can play in carrying out your legacy. A family meeting to discuss values, vision, and purpose can be helpful at any level of wealth, from endowing a new building at an alma mater to volunteer opportunities in the community.
Your estate plan is not a “set-it-and-forget-it” document. It should be reviewed annually and fine-tuned, especially when significant life changes occur, like marriage, divorce, death, the sale of a business, a change in the law, or a change in real estate ownership.
Reference: Worth (Sep. 22, 2023) “Take Charge of Your Legacy With an Estate Plan”