Planning for what happens to your assets and your family upon your demise is often an intimidating project, but something that requires your attention. If you have children, assets, or are concerned of the impact of taxation on your estate, you should have a plan in place.
Gather a list of your assetsThe first thing you should do is consider your estate. In doing so, you should accumulate a list of bank accounts, investment statements, the title to your house, pensions, retirement assets, insurance policies, etc., and make an honest assessment of what these things are worth. You should also list how title to these assets is held - for example, jointly with your spouse, ITF, or some other manner. This is helpful in considering the potential tax consequences to your estate upon demise. What you may want to consider is a plan that would reduce or eliminate the need for your beneficiaries to liquidate assets in order to pay taxes (which can be very high).
Think about what you need.Some of the things to consider are a Durable Power of Attorney, a Health Care Proxy or directive, a Living Will or DNR, guardianship for minor children, a Revocable or Irrevocable Trust, and various other forms and documents that an experienced Estates and Trusts Lawyer will review with you. Some of these may not be applicable depending on your needs, but you should remain open to a discussion as to which of these documents may best suit your specific situation.
Consult with your lawyer; ask questionsThe most important part of this process is understanding what you are doing and asking your lawyer the right questions. Evaluate your priorities - tax avoidance, special needs provisions, probate avoidance, guardianship, maintaining assets, ensuring continuity, for example. Not all plans fit all circumstances, but there are certain documents that are generally necessary. An experienced Estates and Trusts Lawyer can help you balance the options and help you make the right choices in your estate plan.