Over the last few years, we’ve seen lots of stories in the news about athletes, musicians, and other celebrities who’ve died without a will, and the ensuing court battles by families. While you may not be a world-famous celebrity, there are some really good reasons you should consider making a thorough inventory of your assets and setting up an estate plan now:
- It will be easier for family members to help you in a crisis. Estate planning covers disability as well as death. If you are faced with a medical crisis or a nursing home situation, your family members will need to know your financial information and your wishes regarding your medical care – and be able to act upon them. A properly-drafted Financial Power of Attorney and Advance Health Care Directive will let them act on your behalf, and an inventory of your income and assets will allow them to do everything from pay your mortgage to feed your dog.
- It saves family members from playing detective. Don’t make your loved ones spend precious time trying to piece together your financial situation by digging through shoe boxes in your closet filled with old bank statements, piles of mail, and tax returns. Make it easy for them – keep a simple notebook listing your bank accounts, CDs, investment accounts, and retirement plans, along with information about your sources of income and the names of your financial advisor, tax preparer, and lawyer. And be sure to let your family know where the notebook, along with your important papers, can be found.
- It can save you – and your family members – time and money. By sitting down and making a comprehensive list of all of your assets, you can see how complicated (or not) your financial picture may be. Do you have assets in three different banks and two different credit unions? Time to simplify! Close out the smaller accounts and consolidate. Do you still have old 401(k) money spread out in several brokerage accounts? Consolidate those accounts and rebalance your portfolio. Are you holding individual stock certificates or savings bonds in a safe deposit box? Transfer the stock to your brokerage account and register the bonds on the US Treasury website, so that you and your loved ones can manage them more easily. By managing these things now, you can simplify your life and save your loved ones the time and expense of doing it if you become incapacitated or die.
- It can ensure that your assets are disposed of the way you choose. By preparing a Will and reviewing your assets with your advisor, you ensure that you decide where your assets wind up – not the court system. Also, be sure to review and update the beneficiary designations on assets such as retirement accounts, 401(k) plans, and life insurance policies, since those assets are disposed of by beneficiary designation, rather than your Will.
- It can help you minimize, or even eliminate, certain taxes. Let’s be honest – none of us likes to pay taxes. And although most of us won’t have to worry about estate taxes when we die (under current law, there are no federal estate taxes imposed until an estate is above $11,700,000, and no Maryland estate taxes until an estate is above $5,000,000), a thorough asset list and proper estate plan can address any estate tax risks as well as take into consideration inheritance tax, capital gains tax, and even some charitable tax planning, for those of us who are philanthropically inclined.
So remember: a good estate plan is a lot like flood insurance – if you don’t have it when you need it, it’s too late. Make the time to invest in peace of mind for yourself and your family.