To many—or rather, to most people—estate planning feels like a monumental task. It’s overwhelming, to say the least. Not to mention, thinking about what you want to happen to your assets after you pass away isn’t exactly a warm and fuzzy subject. However, so the saying goes: fortune favors the prepared. Being ready for the inevitable is an important step in protecting your assets now, and protecting your legacy in the future.
At Deliberato Law Center, our estate planning attorneys are prepared to patiently and compassionately guide each and every client through the process of planning their estates, no matter how much they know—or don’t know—about the process. However, taking the time to educate yourself prior to meeting with an estate planning attorney can set your mind at ease, and save you money. Here are 10 steps you should take before starting your estate plan:
1. Set a deadline. This is just a self-imposed deadline, but having a goal set in stone will help keep you on track. Your deadline doesn’t have to be tomorrow, or next week. Maybe set it for your next birthday.
2. Educate yourself. Our estate planning attorneys will happily answer as many questions as you have, but you’ll need less of our time if you do some initial legwork and learn the basics prior to meeting with us. With a solid foundation of estate planning knowledge, you’ll be able to skip the general questions and instead spend your valuable time (and money) asking us questions that relate to your specific situation. Our firm offers free estate planning workshops to teach people the basics, and there are several free resources available online.
3. Get organized. Create a personal balance sheet, listing all of your assets, their values, and any debts against them. Compile various statements and deeds for your attorney to see. Remember, the more complete your information is, the more complete your estate plan will be. If you have questions about which assets to include in your balance sheet, please contact us via the form at the bottom of this page.
4. Make a list of beneficiaries. Write down the names, birthdates, and addresses of everyone you would like to inherit your assets. Include charitable organizations on this list, as well.
5. Decide how you would like your beneficiaries to receive their inheritances. You may want to distribute your assets all at once, or slowly over time. Or you may want your assets to go into a trust that will be protected against creditors, irresponsible spending or divorce.
6. Choose an executor for your will. The executor of your will should be someone who lives nearby, and who you trust to execute your wishes. Many people name their eldest child, though many prefer to name a professional. Also, if you have children under the age of 18, think about who you would trust to care for them, as well as who should manage their inheritances.
7. Choose a healthcare proxy. Your healthcare proxy will make decisions about your healthcare needs should you become incapacitated. If you have specific wishes, however, you should make note: for example, if you prefer specific hospitals or living facilities.
8. Keep a log of questions. As you’re compiling all of this information, you’ll undoubtedly have questions. Jot them down, so that when you do meet with an estate planning attorney, you won’t forget to ask!
9. Hire an estate planning attorney. There are a number of DIY estate planning tools out there, but don’t be fooled. You really do need an attorney, otherwise you run the risk of putting your family through a time-consuming and costly probate process, or your estate plan will be thrown out altogether.
10. Talk about your budget. We know. The word “attorney” sounds a lot like “cha-ching.” Be straightforward about your budget, and start with the basics: a will and term life insurance, and then add on from there.
Estate planning is important—that’s why it feels so complicated and nuanced and overwhelming. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources available to help you learn more about the various elements of an estate plan, and our estate planning attorneys are here to guide you through the process seamlessly. Avoiding it out of fear or overwhelm will only serve to put you and your family at risk.