Estate planning is complicated, and needs careful attention. Many people put it off, however, because it involves thinking about difficult topics like:
- Our own mortality
- The potential for incapacity or invalidity
- Naming powers of attorney and health care proxies to handle financial matters and make medical decisions on our behalf if we are unable to do so
- Gathering financial documentation, including bank and retirement account information, real estate titles, deeds, insurance policies
- Inventorying assets
- Making decisions about how our assets should be dispersed after we pass
- Funeral/memorial arrangements
Even though these things are hard to ponder, estate planning is necessary, regardless of wealth level.
Do you have minor children? You need an estate plan to name a guardian for them.
Have a chronic condition that might one day incapacitate you? You need an estate plan to set forth your health care wishes and ensure eligibility for much-needed government benefits.
Would you like to leave money to a much-loved charitable organization, school, public institution or cause? You need an estate plan to transfer the funds and establish any terms you may have on your bequest (loaning a valuable artwork to a museum on the condition that it not be sold, leaving money to your alma mater to set up scholarships for women, etc.).
Another important component of estate planning involves naming beneficiaries for bank accounts, retirement funds, investment accounts and insurance policies. Each of these will need their own beneficiary designation, and you need to review them periodically, especially after major life events like:
- A marriage or divorce
- Birth or adoption of a child
- A child reaching the age of majority (thus not needing a guardian to handle financial matters)
- Death of a spouse or close family member
- Prolonged estrangement of a friend or family member that may have been previously named as a beneficiary
Failing to update beneficiary designations could easily result in people you may not want inheriting your hard-earned money. Imagine that your marriage ended very unpleasantly after a decade. During your time together, you had named your spouse as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy and retirement accounts. If you don't take the additional step of updating all your beneficiary designations after the divorce, your former spouse will inherit these assets when you're gone.
There are many different aspects, nuances and technicalities involved in estate planning. For questions and advice about your estate planning needs, contact an experienced attorney in your area.