It can be easy to focus on the here and now when it comes to financial planning. But we know that to build a successful strategy, we need to look forward — to our plans, goals, and ultimately, what we want to leave behind. That’s where estate or legacy planning comes into play. Estate planning is the process of planning who will receive your assets and handle your responsibilities after you die. By planning for your estate while you’re active and healthy, you’re doing a service to your family, friends, and associates and protecting your legacy.
Here are seven steps to get you started:
1. Outline your assets
When thinking about your estate, the first step is to catalog everything that might be included in that estate — both your physical belongings and your assets. Your financial planner can help you build this list, but here are some of the things that might be included in your estate:
- Business shares or stakes
- Real estate and vehicles
- High value collectibles and possessions (remember to include items of high sentimental value, not just financial value)
- All financial accounts (checking, savings, etc)
- Any stocks, bonds, or funds
- Life insurance
- Retirement accounts
Part of outlining your assets may also be consolidating important papers and access information to help your next of kin.
2. Think through your family’s needs and your personal goals
Once you’ve outlined your assets, spend some time thinking through what you’d like to provide after you’re gone. Do you have enough life insurance to support your family? Does your family need additional resources to help pay for property or education? Have you established guardianship for your children? Are there charitable organizations you’d like to support with your legacy? Each of these questions will help you to put together goals for your legacy and help to prioritize them.
3. Get your paperwork in order
Not surprisingly, building a legacy requires a fair amount of paperwork, and ensuring this paperwork is up to date will help avoid any confusion or squabbles after you’re gone. Your financial planner or lawyer can help you build a list of needed documents, but here are a few to get you started:
- Legal will that outlines your wishes
- Trust to establish rights and access to your financial assets
- Financial power of attorney
- Durable power of attorney
- Advanced healthcare director or living will
4. Establish your beneficiaries
Your will and other documents will help to outline your legacy wishes, but they are not all inclusive. Part of planning for your estate includes keeping your assigned beneficiaries for things like retirement and insurance accounts up-to-date. Beneficiary designations can outweigh your established will, so be sure to update these designations as your life circumstances change. Additionally, make sure that you don’t leave any beneficiaries blank.
5. Familiarize yourself with your state’s estate laws
Part of estate planning is positioning your assets in a way to minimize taxes for your family, so it’s important to consider both federal estate laws as well as state laws. Your financial planner should be able to help outline the strategies for minimizing taxes while keeping estate laws and taxes top of mind.
6. Revisit and update as needed
Your estate plan should be a living document. As life circumstances change, you’ll need to re-evaluate your goals, beneficiaries, and planning documents. Revisiting your plan with your financial planner on a regular basis can help to ensure that you’re accounting for all of your needs.
7. Communicate with your beneficiaries
The loss of a close friend or family member can be jarring — and that’s without having to take wills and executorship into account. One way you can help to prepare your family for the execution of your estate plan is to let them know in advance what matters most to you and what their roles may be. These conversations can be difficult, but are important as you think about providing for your loved ones.
Estate planning can be daunting, but it’s a crucial step in making sure your family, friends, business, and other concerns. are taken care of in case of your death. A financial partner can make sure that you’re taking your legacy into account when making financial decisions and that you’ve prepared for the future.