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Going through the estate planning process can seem overwhelming.  What you need is a roadmap to take you from the start to finish.  This post gives you the high-level overview you need before diving into the details.

Grasp the Urgency

In order to better grasp its real urgency take a close look at the price of failing to plan. In today’s world of blended families, it is very easy for the child to be accidentally disinherited; for example, if everything goes to the new spouse, the child from a previous marriage may get nothing. Then there are family issues that are brewing under the surface that can blow up, unless diffused in advance with proper planning. Finally, the cost of not planning means additional time and expense to heirs, in increased court costs, attorney fees, and tax exposure. When you take a look at the problems that you and your heirs face, you will see the urgency of having a plan in place.

Making the Key Decisions

  1. Where should my estate go?

Often this is the easy part, but not always. What do you do for the child whom you have concerns about? What if they’re disabled? Should you do something for your grandchildren? When we sit down with families to discuss their options, we’ll spend time talking about their family, their goals, and wishes for the future. For blended families, making sure the surviving spouse will be taken care of, while preserving the inheritance for their children is very important. It is very satisfying to know that the people you care about most are going to be taken care of when you are gone.

  1. Who should be in charge of my estate?

Choosing a successor trustee or executor is probably one of the most important decisions you’ll make as part of your estate plan. The right person will be able to manage the financial decisions, as well as manage the family dynamics to prevent conflict.

  1. When should my beneficiaries assume full responsibility for their inheritance?

One of things I enjoy about estate planning is the tremendous amount of options available for families. From using financial incentives to encourage sound money management, to ensuring that someone struggling with destructive habits has the resources they need trusts do more than moving money from one generation to the next. Trusts can also be used to enhance value the inheritance by “wrapping” the inheritance with some asset protection planning.

  1. Who should take care of me if I can’t?

Few people realize that estate planning is also about protecting themselves from “living probate.” The technical term is conservatorship, where you could be in front of the same probate court for the judge to take over your financial and medical decisions if you become incapacitated. With the right documents in place, you’ll know exactly who will step in to manage your financial and medical affairs.

Complete your plan with clear communication

Making a plan successful involves bringing in experts to advise you, and then communicating the decisions you’ve made to the people involved. Talking to your family during and after the plan is complete lets everyone know what is supposed to happen – and why. Often, when families don’t talk about the decisions you make in creating an estate plan, the children are left wondering why certain things were done, with no way of getting answers. Having that discussion now can prevent future problems.