Estate planning might seem like a herculean task for anyone who’s never done it before. Since it involves making important decisions about your assets, your healthcare needs, and your family, you might try to put it off until you are ready to deal with the paperwork involved.
However, when planning for what’s going to happen after your death or if you ever become incapacitated, it’s always a smart choice to do it as early as you can. Planning ahead early on with good legal help will make the probate process (the fund collecting process) much easier after death.
Inventory of Your Assets
No matter how big or small your estate is, estate planning should always begin with making an inventory of all your assets. This should include all of your financial assets, investments, real properties, insurance policies, businesses, and everything else that you own. Even assets that you own jointly with someone else are part of your estate and should be included.
Meet with Your Lawyer
After you have listed down all of your assets, it’s time to meet with your lawyer. Unless you are highly knowledgeable of federal and state laws regarding estates, estate planning, and probate it isn’t usually something you can do on your own. Your lawyer will be able to give you proper legal advice on how to distribute your assets and take care of financial obligations. You can also seek help for necessary paperwork and other legal processes involved in estate planning.
Preparing a Will
Leaving a will is the safest measure to ensure that your heirs don’t end up in messy disputes over inheritance rights. This is especially true for people who have extended families, who were in multiple marriages, and those who have children. Don’t write your will on your own, it is best to prepare the will in the presence of your lawyer.
While there are many templates available online, they don’t usually help with the legal aspects of preparing a will. This is exactly why it not a smart idea to prepare a will without a lawyer. Since estate laws are different from state to state, a lawyer can help you prepare a will that abides by local state laws to ensure that it is valid and legally binding.
Power of Attorney
The purpose of estate planning is to prepare for the future so that if you die or ever lose your mental capacity to decide these matters later on, everything is already set up. However, you will need someone to have power of attorney to facilitate the management of your affairs.
The person you assign power of attorney to should be someone you can trust with your life, your assets, and your family. A person with power of attorney can sign documents on your behalf and make financial decisions for you according to your wishes. You can choose a family member, a friend, a lawyer, or other third parties.
Discuss Your Plans with Your Family & The Probate Process
The distribution of assets can be a messy situation, even if you leave behind a will. It is best that you discuss key decisions with your immediate family to avoid disputes and resentment later on. Even with a will, your loved ones will have to work with a probate attorney to collect the funds using a local surrogate court. This process can be be very difficult and that is why it is vital to leave your loved with the least amount of work and headache possible. Make sure the legal representation you choose for your estate is experienced in dealing with probate. While this is completely at your discretion and is not a requirement to plan your estate, if you’re clear about everything from the start, it will help avoid unnecessary conflicts among your family members.