You need an estate plan. This is true even if you don’t have a lot of assets. It’s also true if you’re young, or if you don’t have close family member. Estate planning means preparing for the inevitabilities of life. People get sick or hurt, and you need a plan in place to determine what kind of medical care you’ll receive if this happens to you. People become incapacitated, unable to make important decisions on their own, or unable to live independently. And of course, people die. Estate planning helps to protect your family and your assets in any of these unfortunate situations.
A recent online article by Christy Bieber and posted on The Motley Fool website (https://www.fool.com/retirement/2018/12/22/estate-planning-checklist-everything-you-need-to-k.aspx) is a good starting place for folks who know that they need to start looking at estate planning but are not sure where to begin. That article is also good for those who don’t yet know that they need to begin considering their estate planning matters. In fact, I suspect that many people simply do not know what they don’t know and in the process of reading an article and checklist like the one in that article, many people will be made aware that it is time to consider this stuff for the very first time. Of course, everyone’s situation and circumstances are unique, so are the reasons why people begin to think about estate planning. But with almost no exceptions, a person who owns anything and/or who has anyone in their life that they care about should have an estate plan (as per the introductory quote of this post taken from Ms. Bieber’s article).
Identify your goals for creating an estate plan
Different people have different reasons for making an estate plan. Some of the most common reasons include the following:
To ensure minor children are cared for if parents die before the children become adults
To ensure pets are cared for and financially provided for if something happens to their owners
To ensure that surviving family members are financially taken care of in the event of a death
To ensure a family business remains operational and within the family after a death
To control what happens to assets after a death occurs
To protect wealth, including a family business or other assets
To prepare for incapacity by providing instructions for medical care and specifying who should make decisions and manage the affairs of the incapacitated person
To make a plan for charitable giving
To make a plan to facilitate the timely and cost-effective transfer of assets outside of the probate process
To reduce or avoid estate tax on a larger estate
To take more control over what happens to an inheritance, such as ensuring money is used only to pay for a college education or ensuring money doesn’t go to a child until after his or her 21st birthday
To provide for a disabled loved one who is receiving government benefits that could be lost due to an inheritance, or to provide for a disabled loved one who cannot manage an inheritance independently
Steven Covey’s mantra about beginning with the end in mind surely applies here, for a variety of reasons. Among which is the fact that an estate plan may be likened to a house. And just as houses vary greatly with the preferences, needs and resources of their owners, so do estate plans. So, as you sit down to begin formulating the design for the structure of your estate plan, you should consider what you need to accomplish, what risks you are looking to protect against, the people who will be involved in your estate plan (both as administrators and as beneficiaries) and the assets that will be managed and eventually distributed by the estate plan. There are a host of other related matters and possible considerations that will come to the fore at this early stage of planning. These are gating issues that will then dictate all that follows in your estate planning.
And for those stubborn folks who simply don’t want to take the time or energy to formulate such foundational goals and objectives at the start of the process, they should beware that they don’t end up like Alice.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“—so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”