People often assume estate plans are only for the wealthy. That could not be further from the truth. Everyone has an estate and everyone can benefit from having an estate plan in place. So what is an estate? Generally speaking, your “estate” comprises everything you own; vehicle(s), bank accounts, real estate, securities, personal possessions, etc. When you die (yes, unfortunately this will eventually happen) those assets that you owned during your life will be given to someone else.
Having an estate plan allows you to provide legally binding instructions on how you want your property handled and which individuals or organizations will receive your property. Setting up an estate plan will allow you to make informed decisions about who will receive your assets and how your assets will be handled (while you are still alive!) Additionally, having an estate plan will enable you to maximize the value you pass along to your beneficiaries. That is the general overview of estate planning, but there is much more to estate planning than just deciding who will receive your property when you die. Estate planning also includes:
- Providing medical care instructions should your become incapacitated, incompetent or disabled before your death;
- Authorizing an individual to make medical decisions for you should you become incapacitated, incompetent or disabled before your death;
- Authorizing an individual to handle your financial affairs for you should you become incapacitated, incompetent or disabled before your death;
- Appointing a guardian for your minor children, should you die before your children reach the age of majority;
- Providing instructions on how your remains are to be handled and how your funeral expenses are to be paid for;
- Providing for the relatively quick and easy transfer of your property outside of the court-regulated probate process;
- Reducing taxes and court costs whenever possible;
- Providing for the financial security of loved ones who may not be financially responsible at the moment;
- Providing for a child with special needs without running the risk of losing government benefits;
- Providing for a spouse while also providing for children from a previous relationship or marriage;
- Obtaining a life insurance policies with your loved one(s) as the named beneficiaries
Yes, you do need an estate plan. Just because you are not wealthy does not mean you should not be prepared. Estate planning is often more important to individuals or families with modest estate because they do not have as much financial flexibility and cannot afford to lose as much as their wealthier counterparts.
If you don’t create an estate plan, the state will create one for you. If you die without a formal estate plan, the state will create one for you according to their “intestacy laws”. The state will decide who gets your property and how much they receive, and if you have minor children at the time of your death, the court will appoint a guardian for your children. Wouldn’t you rather be the one to decide who gets your hard earned property and who looks after your children? Don’t leave these decisions up to the state, because the state might not make those decisions according to your wishes.
You do not have to spend a small fortune on estate planning. Estate planning does not have to be expensive. If you do not need or do not want a complex estate plan, just start with the basics: A will, financial power of attorney, healthcare power of attorney & healthcare directive, letter of instruction and life insurance. As you financial situation and needs change over time, you can always revisit your estate plan and make changes as needed.
Don’t wait. Nobody likes to think about their own death. But don’t let this stand in the way of preparing for the inevitable. Too many people die or become incapacitated without having made the necessary preparations and as a result their family members are left to pick up the pieces.