Contrary to popular belief, an estate plan is not just about money or taxes. It’s about protecting your assets for yourself and your loved ones, achieving your financial goals and safeguarding your health care. Money and taxes aside, here are seven good reasons you need an estate plan:
- Your health care. Defining how your medical needs will be addressed in case you cannot make heath care decisions for yourself is a primary objective of having an estate plan. You also need to consider how you will meet the costs of long-term care. You need to name someone to make decisions for you and tell them how you want them made. This must be legally documented or the person you want caring for you cannot help without going to court first. In California, this is called an Advance Health Care Directive. A court proceeding to name a conservator of your person is something to be avoided!
- Probate.You’ve heard about it; probate is an unnecessary, public, and often expensive court process that takes control out of your family’s hands and puts that power in the hands of a judge who doesn’t know you or what’s important to you. A main focus of estate planning is keeping your family out of court, no matter what.
- Family harmony.Family fights over how assets are divided and distributed are common when there is no estate plan and trusted advisory to guide family members. Sadly enough, these fights happen even when amounts of money are small or even when there is no money at stake. Some of the biggest fights are related to sentimental items with no monetary value at all. If you don’t want your family to fight, you should plan your estate ahead of time.
- Beneficiary forms.You likely have several assets that cannot be passed along in a will alone. These include IRA?s, life insurance, retirement plans and annuities, all of which are governed by beneficiary forms that specify who is to receive the assets upon the death of an account holder. Completing these forms properly is estate planning. Completing these forms improperly creates the potential for a hugely disparate distribution, disgruntled beneficiaries, and probate.
- Kids and parents. If you are currently responsible for the care of minor children, elderly parents, or a person who has special needs, you need a plan for the continuation of that care after you are gone.
- Managing assets.Is your spouse or other family members capable of managing all your assets? Does he or she have access or legal authority to do so if you are disabled or if you die? If not, you need to name someone who is capable of doing this now, so your assets will be managed wisely for your benefit and the benefit of your family in the future.
- Business succession.If you own business, you will need a succession plan to govern what happens to your ownership interest if something should happen to you. This is especially important if you are in business with a business partner, or you could end up in business with your partner’s spouse, forcing a buyout when you can’t afford it, or at a greater than expected price, or worse, a liquidation of the business.