Estate Planning – It’s Not Just for The WealthySubmitted by Orange CA Financial Advisor | Sterling Wealth Partners on March 14th, 2017
Thinking about death, and what is going to happen to your family when it you pass away, is an uncomfortable topic for most people. Then, when you phrase it as “estate planning”, most people just say “well that is for wealthy people” and rationalize that they do not need to do it. The reality is that everyone, regardless of wealth, needs to plan for what happens with their eventual death or incapacity.While the truly wealthy may need more sophisticated planning involving trusts and other strategies to reduce taxation and protect wealth, everyone needs to have at least what we call “the big five” essential estate planning items. These documents are critical regardless of how much wealth you have and can provide peace of mind that your family will know what to do if something should happen to you.
· Health Care Power of Attorney / Living Will – This document will appoint someone to make your health care decisions if you are unable to make them yourself. The document also usually spells out your wishes in terms of life support, feeding and pain alleviation, organ donation and other health care items. By clearly spelling out your wishes, you can avoid the potential family conflicts which can occur when you haven’t made your intentions clear.
· Financial Power of Attorney – This document appoints someone to manage your financial affairs if are unable to yourself. The document typically doesn’t become effective until you have been judged incapacitated and then allows your power of attorney to pay bills, make investment decisions and make other financial transactions on your behalf.
· Will – Without a will, the state determines who will receive your assets using a process called intestacy. While the state’s intestacy rules may ultimately pass your estate to your intended beneficiaries, this isn’t always the case. Plus, the will can be used to specify who gets your family heirlooms, which is where many family squabbles start. For those with minor children, a critical part of the will can be naming guardians for the children. Again, without this in place, the courts will decide who is guardian and family conflict may result.
· Up-to-Date Beneficiary Designations – For most people, their IRAs, 401(k)s, annuities and life insurance policies are the largest part of their wealth. These all pass via a beneficiary designation and not the will. We often see that these are not up-to-date and a deceased parent or an ex-spouse is listed as the beneficiary. It is important to know that the beneficiary designation overrides your will or your intended wishes so that ex-spouse will get your life insurance proceeds if the designation isn’t up to date.
· Survivor’s Checklist – This very important document is the tool to help your family deal with the process of handling your personal affairs when you die. The document can be used to list your assets, bank accounts, insurance policies, pensions etc. It can also be used to define your last wishes such as burial or cremation, preplanned funeral arrangements and contact information for your advisors like your attorney, CPA or financial planner.
As you can see, much of what these documents provide has no nothing to do with how wealthy you are. Their role in the estate plan is to provide a path for an orderly transition of your estate to your loved ones and make that job easier during a time of grief.