Death is uncomfortable to think about and can be even harder to discuss with our loved one. It is no wonder so many people?fail to consider: What will happen to my hard earned assets and those I love after I die?
Women in particular face challenge when it comes to estate planning. It ‘s hard to think about leaving behind our children, spouses, parents and others we love. The thought is nearly unbearable, so we avoid it. Also, many women overlook the likelihood that they will outlive their male partners. It is not enough to assume that the beneficiary designations are correct and that things will work out. Many married couples assume everything they own will go to the other when one dies. Not always, and certainly not always without confusing, time-consuming and expensive steps such as probate.
Many married couples assume everything they own will go to the other when one dies. Not always, and certainly not always without confusing, time-consuming and expensive steps such as probate. If you don’t sit down with an attorney and establish an effective estate plan, the consequences can be costly and unfortunate.
The California Probate Code has a plan for you and your assets if you fail to make your own. It is not likely to reflect your wishes, especially if you have more than one marriage, children from more than one marriage, a co-habitant, step-children, or any number of other relationships outside the traditional family.
Some studies show as few as thirty (30%) percent of adults have estate planning documents in place. The reasons given range from thinking estate planning is only for the wealthy to the illogical concern that if they have a will something bad will happen. The recent passage of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, which increased the estate tax exemption to $5,250,000 per person, adds to a common misconception that if you don’t have great wealth, you don’t need to plan.
Estate planning is much more than tax planning. It is about planning for your children, spouse and loved one, by naming guardians, defining the manner in which those you love to inherit wealth, passing your hard-earned assets, no matter the value, to those you love, in the way you choose. An effective estate plan dictates what you want to happen, with appropriate plans for contingencies, such as a loved one predeceasing you in death. Or maybe ensuring your children don’t receive a lot of money all at once at age 18, but in stages, with the assistance of a trustee.
Or perhaps you want to pay for the education for your younger loved ones. Or plan for a disabled child, or your church, or a favorite charity. An estate plan is personal and should reflect your priorities for the ones you care about. It isn’t just about who gets the sterling silver (although the personal property is a surprisingly important part of the overall plan); it is about expressing your hopes and desires for your loved ones when you are gone.
Many people believe that estate plans are prohibitively expensive.
A basic plan for a single or young couple is likely to be well under $2,000. Aggressive tax planning and complex trusts do increase the cost but are not appropriate for most people. Most good estate planning attorneys will work with a client to prioritize the critical documents and perhaps even spread out payments over time.
To locate a good estate planning attorney, ask friends, financial planners, insurance agents, and tax professionals for a referral to a lawyer that specializes in estate planning. And check with the State Bar of California for specialists in estate planning.
When you meet with an attorney, be prepared with a list of your assets, a list of your loved ones, and thoughts about your priorities. Be prepared to use your time wisely. If you go to the attorney with a spouse, have a conversation beforehand about your ideas and preferences. Ask your lawyer to look at your assets and make recommendations about steps you should consider. Are there ways to reduce taxes due on your death? Should you consider aggressive tax planning? If you have a disabled child, what is the best plan to take care of that child that will not jeopardize government benefits but still provide for the extras you would have given?
The likelihood of dying young is small, but tragedies do happen. Smart women invest in estate planning for peace of mind and to focus on living?knowing that our loved ones and our affairs are in order, no matter what happens.