Preparing for the end of life is tough to think about, but making sure your estate plan is up to date will enable your family to grieve without having to worry about finances or managing other obligations.
If you are married or have a partner, having your financial affairs in order can provide solace to your significant other during a difficult time. Although everyone hopes to live a long life, unexpected events can occur at any moment. It’s important that you carefully consider who will carry out your wishes and that they are aware of your financial circumstances.
This means telling your chosen personal representative, spouse or friend where important documents such as your will, tax return, military discharge papers, real estate deeds, and the like are located. Providing account passwords and/or contact information for digital files, life insurance policies, annuities, bank accounts, retirement plans and electronic bill payments will ensure nothing is overlooked in the estate settlement process. Preparing for the end of life is about more than just creating a will and deciding on burial versus cremation; ensuring that your finances are organized and accessible is equally important.
While many people focus on who will get a treasured family heirloom, “Your legacy is not just about what you leave, but how you leave it,” said Lorrie Leonard, CFP®, Vice president and Relationship Manager at Rockland Trust.
Regardless of when you start planning and depending on your current stage of life, there are important considerations, such as whether or not you have small children or grandchildren that will impact your plans. Below are some steps to help guide you as you get started:
Developing an estate plan
- Work with a financial planner. There are many things to consider during the financial planning process that may not occur to you without the help of an expert. Look for a certified financial planner who understands your entire situation.
- Create a will. A will is a legal declaration by which you name one or more persons to manage your estate and provides for the transfer of your property at death. It can also name a guardian for minor children and name specific beneficiaries.
- Choose a personal representative in your will. The role of the personal representative can be time consuming and comes with many legal and tax considerations. Make sure the person you choose can handle the job.
- Create a durable power of attorney. The power of attorney is simply a document wherein another person (the attorney-in-fact) is authorized to act in place and on behalf of the person (the principal) with regard to the property of the principal. A “durable” power of attorney survives your incapacity and can continue after such an event.
Appoint someone you trust and who you know has your best interests in mind. This person (or persons) should be organized and have time to carry out paying bills and handling other financial matters.
- Execute a Health Care Proxy. A Health Care Proxy is a simple legal document that allows you to name someone you know and trust to make health care decisions for you if, for any reason and at any time, you become unable to make or communicate those decisions. It is an important document, however, because it concerns not only the choices you make about your health care, but also the relationships you have with your physician, family, and others who may be involved with your care.
- Consider a Trust. A trust is a document created during your life naming a trustee to manage and distribute property for the benefit of another person. It’s advantages include probate avoidance, management of assets, financial protection for beneficiaries, estate tax reduction and privacy.
- Review your life insurance needs. Determine which type of coverage is appropriate and how much you will need(Opens in a new Window). If you currently own life insurance, review the policies for adequacy of coverage, the appropriateness of the policy and its cost effectiveness.
- Name a primary and contingent beneficiary for your 401(k), IRA, life insurance and annuities. If no one is named, that money may not pass as you intended.
- Plan for the care of your family pet. Arrangements also need to be made for the family pet, which is a detail that often gets overlooked. Things to consider are who will be the caregiver, the level of care you expect the pet to receive, the cost of the care and your pet’s life expectancy.