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Do your homework before visiting your estate planning attorney

When you are ready to do your estate planning, you can always show up at your attorney's office and have him or her walk through the entire planning process with you, but there are questions he or she is going to have to ask. Having the answers ahead of time can streamline that process and help you avoid making snap decisions that you will have to change later.

You can start by making a list of everything that will be in your estate plan and determining its worth. Along with all of your property and assets, include intangibles such as life insurance policies, retirement plans, 401K's, individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and investments.

Now that your list is complete, you can start answering some of the questions your attorney will be asking, such as who you want your beneficiaries to be. This is also a good time to go ahead and update your beneficiaries on your insurance policies and retirement plans if necessary.

Decide how your property and assets will be distributed. If you have children, you may need to consider having assets or funds distributed at interval stages of their life. In this case, you will want to discuss a trust with your attorney.

Next, you will need to decide who you want to carry out your estate plan. The executor can be a family member, a corporate trustee or your attorney. If you have children, you will also need to choose who you would want to be their guardian.

Finally, you will want to name a power of attorney in the event you become incapacitated. You can give this person rights to make decisions on your behalf, being as selective as you want in exactly how much latitude you allow. In addition, you need to name someone you trust to make medical decisions for you in case you are unable to.

There are different types of wills and trusts, but now that you have made most of the pertinent decisions, an estate planning attorney can more easily do his or her job. He or she will be able to advise you on what will work best for your situation and then draw up the necessary documents.

Source: Investor's Business Daily, "5 Must-Do Tips For Your Will And Estate Planning," Lawrence Carrel, accessed Feb. 20, 2018

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