Estate Planning: Start Now, Not Later
There is nothing like a global pandemic to get you thinking about your own mortality. Even in normal times, nobody likes thinking about whether they have properly planned for what happens if they get sick or in an accident and become incapacitated or pass away. Many people put it off until something bad happens in their lives that motivates them to act. Some people do not ever get around to it until it is too late.
1. Create or update a will
A will is a legal document that spells out your wishes regarding the care of your children, as well as the distribution of your assets after your death. If you do not prepare a will, the decisions about your estate will be made by judges based on the intestate laws in the state in which you reside. An executor is someone named in a will who is given the legal responsibility to take care of a deceased person's remaining financial obligations.
2. Consider a revocable living trust
A living trust is an estate planning tool used by individuals and families to pass on property while generally avoiding costs and delays associated with probate. It is especially helpful if you own property in more than one state.
3. Prepare advance health care directives
A health care directive (a.k.a. living will) is a written document that informs others of your wishes about your health care. It describes, in detail, what type of life-saving intervention you would like and in what situations it is to be used. It also allows you to name a health care power of attorney (a.k.a. agent or proxy) to communicate with your doctors and decide for you if you are unable to do it yourself. You should name both a primary and contingent agent. A HIPAA authorization should also be included in the health care directives.
4. Create a
durable power of attorney for finances
This document allows you
to give a trusted person authority to handle your finances and property if you
become incapacitated and unable to handle your own affairs. This agent (sometimes referred to as "attorney-in-fact")
can make sure your bills, including your taxes, get paid.
5. Make sure your
beneficiaries are up to date and your assets are properly titled
Primary and contingent beneficiaries should be established and periodically reviewed for all financial accounts and life insurance policies. It is standard practice to designate primary beneficiaries on 401(k)s, IRA's, and other retirement accounts, but it important to designate contingent beneficiaries too. Primary and contingent beneficiaries should also be established for non-retirement accounts. These arrangements are typically called "transfer on death" for brokerage accounts and "payable on death" for bank accounts.
6. Organize your documents
Collect the documents,
logins and passwords, keys, etc. in a place that is known by and accessible to
the right people when it is needed. You
should also have a list of your medical conditions, medications, allergies,
names and phone numbers of your physicians, and insurance cards, readily
available in case of an emergency trip to the hospital.