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Are You Ready For Estate Planning?

Many of my would-be clients are not ready to do estate planning. One is an 88-year old woman who told me she is “not ready” to do her estate planning. Another is a woman who might be ready after her grandchild is born. Others are waiting until they get back from vacation.

There is no time like the present to get your estate planning done. As the Nike commercial says: “Just Do It!”

The following is a brief list of what you need for estate planning.

Who are your beneficiaries? The 88-year old woman mentioned above has never been married, has no children, has no brothers or sisters, and has an estate of $2,000,000. Her biggest stumbling block to estate planning is that she literally has no beneficiaries. I have warned her about what will happen if she does no estate planning. In her case, a distant cousin will inherit it all, and my client doesn’t even like the cousin! I have asked her about her friends and how much she would like to leave them. She named two friends that she would like to leave $10,000 each. That leaves $1,980,000. I asked her about charities but she apparently doesn’t have any charitable intent.

So the first thing you need for estate planning is a list of those to whom you want to leave your property. Those will be the beneficiaries of your estate.

What do you own? To be ready for estate planning, you need to make a list of your assets, how the assets are held (for example, as joint tenants with right of survivorship, with your spouse), and the named beneficiaries, if any (life insurance). Ann Merkley of Merkley Wealth Associates has a worksheet that will help you with this process.

Executors/Trustees. Names of people you want to manage your affairs after your death who will serve as trustees or executors.

Your estate plan. With these few planning items in hand, you are ready to meet with an attorney to do your estate plan. The attorney can answer your questions, advise you on whether you should have a will-based or trust-based estate and prepare your documents for you.

Updating your estate plan. Unfortunately, estate planning isn’t something that you can do and then forget about. You should regularly review your plan and make any changes when your personal situation changes such as births, death, divorce, marriage, as well as significant increases or decreases in the size of your estate.

Make an appointment. The easiest way to get going on estate planning is to make an appointment with an estate planning attorney. Then you have a deadline for getting ready for the estate planning, making a list of your assets, thinking about who your beneficiaries are and deciding who will be in charge of your estate upon your death.