Understanding the Basics

Now Is the Time to Act

We hope that you are in good health and not expecting to be face-to-face with death for decades to come. Unfortunately, death can strike each of us at any time. It is also true that typically, the younger you are, the greater the likelihood that a loved one, such as a spouse or child, is depending on you. As you read about estate planning, we will focus on the impact that your death will have on your family. This will seem difficult to imagine, and other issues may seem more urgent right now. It is common to try to put these issues off until some other time. Do not make this mistake. It is unwise to put off estate planning until tomorrow, because tomorrow may never come. Act now.

You are the person who must determine what will provide security for you and your heirs. Though you may be working with an attorney or other estate planning professional and seeking advice from loved ones, the final word in all matters involving estate planning rests with you.

Your spouse or partner is important in the estate planning process. Although you may have your own will and may make decisions in your plan that differ from his or her desires, work together to integrate your plans. Get his or her input.

Estate planning lasts a lifetime. You'll need to monitor your situation to ensure it is current and meets your wishes.

Meeting with an Attorney or Estate Planning Professional

For most estate situations, an attorney who is familiar with estate planning issues will do just fine. (For people with complex issues and larger estates, an estate planning expert may be necessary.) The attorney should be patient with you and be willing to answer any questions you have. Remember, the attorney is working for you, so don't be intimidated.

Before you meet with your attorney or estate planning professional, prepare the "What's Your Estate Worth?" and "Estate Wishes" worksheets. Bring these to the meeting so the attorney can see what your wishes are, as well as the composition of your estate. Any information you leave out may lead to a mistake in developing your plan. In particular, tell him or her about jurisdictions where you previously resided, children from a prior marriage, and the financial, emotional, or medical condition of any people to whom you want to leave money. You should also inform him or her about any marital trouble that may lead to divorce.

SUGGESTION: As you are reading about estate planning, you may want to consider how the concepts covered would affect the financial situation of your parents or other loved ones. They may not be aware of all the planning opportunities available. Lead by example. Tell them that you are planning your own estate and then suggest that they consider some of the ideas you are learning about for themselves.

Take some time to explore this Estate Planning section. When you've done so, you will be able to meet these objectives:

  • Be able to estimate your estate
  • Know how to develop a list of people you want to leave money or property to when you die
  • Understand the importance of selecting the right legal guardian for your children
  • Understand the importance of selecting the right person to handle your affairs when you die
  • Be able to minimize the influence the courts will have on your affairs when you die
  • Be able to reduce the taxes on your estate
  • Be able to maximize the amount of money and property available to your heirs
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