Estate Planning – What You Should Know & Get Done

No one enjoys thinking about their own death. However, all of us must start making our affairs in order. You may think that estate planning was only for the rich and mighty, or that you're too young and healthy to plan for your demise. Or maybe you think you don't need to worry about such things, think again. Nobody knows what will happen next. Even people with modest assets can benefit from good planning. This encompasses more than just writing a will. And, as we all know very well, death doesn't discriminate by age or any other factor. A little forethought in the present about how you would like things to be if and when you're incapacitated or gone can give you great peace of mind. Also, this can spare your family a lot of hassle in the future.

Eleven things that you need to do while estate planning includes:

1. Gather important documents and contact information

Property deeds, vehicle titles, official certificates (birth, marriage, etc.), the contact information for your attorney, insurance broker, doctor, and more — all of these that you can gather. Put in the same safe place early on to make it easier for your loved ones to find them when they need them later. Getting all these materials together should also make compiling your estate plan easier. You will have all the necessary information at your fingertips.

2. Execute a last will and testament

A will is one of the most important estates planning documents you can have. It includes data like where you would like your property to go after your death. If you don’t make a will, the state's intestacy laws are followed. This applies when someone dies without a will. Do not assume that the state will make the same choices you would have made. When you create a will, you, as the testator, should name an estate administrator or executor, a person you trust to handle the distribution of your estate. You can also name a legal guardian if you have any minor children and for their property. If you have beloved pets, leave the name of a carer for them as well.

3. Complete a living will or advance directive

A living will or advance directive is a legal document in which you name someone to communicate with medical personnel regarding your treatment preferences should you become incapacitated or in a situation where you can no longer express your preferences yourself. [1] Issues addressed in a living will generally include breathing tubes, feeding tubes, and other medical treatments.

4. Get a power of attorney

A durable power of attorney allows you to make someone be in charge of making decisions in case you become incapacitated. [2] You can also choose to name a separate health care power of attorney for medical decisions and financial power of attorney for all the financial decisions.

A healthcare power of attorney works simultaneously with a living will. This ensures to follow precisely your wishes regarding medical treatment. To allow others to talk with doctors and nurses regarding your condition, you will need a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) authorization. [3]

5. Keep your beneficiaries updated

If you have life insurance, retirement accounts, pensions, pay-on-death (POD), or transfer-on-death accounts, always make sure to update your beneficiaries. These accounts transfer according to their beneficiary designations and not controlled by your last will. If a change in your family situation happens at any given time, review your beneficiaries and make any necessary changes.

6. Secure your digital assets

Along with online bank, investment, and shopping accounts, many people also have social media accounts that need proper handling upon death of owner. Such issues also need to be taken care of while you're alive. Facebook, for example, has a special section for you to be able to select someone to take over your account when you pass. However, you should also think about what should happen to your social media accounts. This includes your websites, blogs, and any other online activities in which you participate after your death.

7. Plan final arrangements

Final arrangements need to be planned well. Such arrangements can include both organ donation and funeral plans, including their compensation. Using Pay-on-death bank accounts may be the best way to handle funeral expenses. Your will isn't the best place to include this information. It often isn't read immediately. Write a letter to your estate administrator or a trusted family member or friend as the best idea.

8. Make copies and store them safely

Once you have gathered all your estate planning documents in one place, make copies of them and store both in a safe place. You may choose a safe deposit box or fireproof safe in your house. Make sure that at least one other person has access to these documents so that they can be obtained after your death.

9. Talk to your loved ones

Getting everything down on paper is a great step forward in estate planning. However, you must talk with your loved ones about your wishes. The clearer they know on what you want, the more likely that your wishes will be fulfilled with fewer problems. Your wishes won't have to be guessed. Talk to them about your life and memories. Pass along any cherished photographs and stories that you may want your loved ones to hang on to.

10. Don't forget about the documents

Once you have gathered your estate plan, don't just put it in that safe place and forget about it. Revisit the documents at least once a year to make sure they still reflect your present intentions.


References:

1. "Living Wills, Health Care Proxies, & Advance Health Care Directives". ABA. American Bar Association. Retrieved 8 May 2017.

2. Clark, Elias; et al. (2007). Gratuitous Transfers: Wills, Intestate Succession, Trusts, Gifts, Future Interests, and Estate and Gift Taxation. St. Paul, MN: Thomson/West. p. 310. ISBN 978-0-314-16040-9.

3. Edemekong, Peter F. “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 27 Oct. 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK500019/.