Client Question: Before Formal Estate Planning

April 11, 2024

In talking with a client this week, I learned that he has not completed his estate planning as I have been recommending for a while now. He recently got married and is expecting a child, so the establishment of these documents is more important than ever. He certainly appreciates and understands the importance of this process (and promises to get it done in the near future!). But in the meantime, he asked if there was anything he could do to better protect himself and his family.

I will preface all of this by saying that the best course of action is to formalize and document your estate plan at all stages of your life/family (it can be adjusted as you go). We are all going to die at some point – that is just the reality of life – and having things outlined and taken care of in advance of that is similar to quite a few tasks of adulthood (not fun, but necessary!) However, if you can’t afford it right now, aren’t mentally prepared, or simply don’t have the time to tackle it, here is the advice I gave my client re: tasks to do in the meantime.

1.) Review Beneficiaries & Make Updates – this is essential. Beneficiary designations are instructions to the custodian of your assets or life insurance policies that give directions concerning their distribution upon your passing. Certain assets (like retirement accounts and insurance policies) require these designations. But others (like bank accounts, your home, and after-tax brokerage accounts) do not require such designations but do allow for them. These designations will ensure your wishes are met and that assets transfer without going thru a probate process. Review all of your assets for beneficiary designations and if they aren’t in place, obtain the forms and get this step completed. It will go a long way to ensure your assets transfer in a manner that aligns with your wishes.

Please note – even if you have completed estate planning in the past, it is worth revisiting your beneficiary designations to ensure everything is up to date and in line with your current situation

2.) Consider POAs – Power of Attorney forms are estate planning documents that allow for others to act on your behalf while you are still living, but unable to act on your own. These documents are relatively straightforward and more affordable that a complete estate plan so perhaps you can at least take care of this part. POAs cover both financial matters and health care matters

3.) Write it all out – A considerable amount of inertia regarding estate planning comes from the contemplation of your wishes. It is a very mentally taxing task to decide how to divide your assets and which the individuals to name in the key roles. Even if you aren’t ready to commence the process, put pen to paper and get your wishes written down and finalized so you are ready to go.

4.) Review life insurance – A key part of any estate plan in evaluating the need for life insurance. While this will cost money as well (once you select a policy and pay the premium), it can help protect your family for years to come should something happen to you

Hope this proves helpful if you are in a similar position to my client. But again- the best path forward with estate planning is always to get it done – and to do so sooner versus later.

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