Five ways to help you save on taxes and protect your assets and privacy.
Consider setting up an estate plan, especially if you want to minimize probate costs, protect your privacy, and find ways to save on taxes.
An estate plan helps you control the disposition of your assets upon your passing, ensuring that assets flow to your heirs according to your wishes.
Your estate plan does more than disperse your financial assets; it also provides guidance for your loved ones regarding your preferences for end-of-life medical intervention.
For many people, creating an estate plan is a task that routinely gets pushed to the bottom of the pile. Some assume that estate plans are only for the wealthy. Others may simply want to avoid thinking about some of the tough topics estate planning entails. Whatever the reason, more than half of Americans don’t even have a basic will.
Yet, most everyone should have an estate plan.
In addition to arranging for the distribution of your assets, estate plans should include vital documents that address a range of thorny issues, from who will be the guardian of your children if you pass away, to how your loved ones should approach your medical decisions if you are incapacitated.
“An estate plan addresses many extremely important aspects of your medical and financial life, and ensures that your loved ones understand your wishes,” says Nathaniel Arnett, estate planning specialist at Fidelity Investments. “Having a plan in place can help give you and your family real peace of mind.”
With the help of legal and financial professionals, drafting an estate plan is probably easier than you think. Experienced advisors can help make sure you don’t miss any important pieces and that your estate plan addresses all your needs.
Here are the first three steps to get you on the right track:
- Establish a power of attorney
A power of attorney is a legal document that grants another person the ability to make financial or medical decisions for you in the event that you become incapacitated. Such decisions may include liquidating investments to pay for medical bills, managing your insurance, and, in the case of a medical power of attorney, making sure you get the medical care and interventions that you want.
Financial and medical powers of attorney are generally 2 different legal documents and it may make sense to appoint 2 different people. In the case of designating a financial power of attorney, consider someone you trust wholeheartedly. This person will be opening your mail, contacting your banks, transferring your assets, and paying your bills, if needed. They don’t need to be a financial whiz, but you should trust this person to make pragmatic and thoughtful decisions on your behalf.
Your medical power of attorney—sometimes called your health care proxy, depending on where you live and how it is drafted—will make medical decisions on your behalf. This person will use your living will (also known as an advance health care directive) as a guide for determining the care you desire. Many people designate a spouse or adult child in this role, also naming an alternative in the event that the person initially named is unable to serve.
Whoever you choose, have a discussion to gain mutual understanding that makes sure they are aware of your medical preferences. “Have a proactive conversation so that you can answer important questions and make the person’s job easier in the event that they ever need to fulfill the role,” Arnett says.
- Create a living will
Your estate plan certainly provides for the opportunity to do more than disperse your financial assets; it also provides guidance for your loved ones regarding your preferences for end-of-life medical intervention, in case you can’t communicate for yourself.
Most living wills address instructions for handling the following:
- Life-prolonging treatments, including blood transfusions, medication, and surgery
- Artificial life support and COVID-19 ventilators
- Pain relief or palliative care
- Administration of food and water (including tube feeding)
- Do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders
These documents can be as specific as you like, and can denote your religious preferences and any plans for organ donation. “A living will offers much-needed guidance for your medical team and family, especially when a decision isn’t clear,” Arnett says.
Your attorney can help you draft a living will along with the rest of your estate plan. Make sure you send a copy to your primary care physician to ensure that your living will is easily accessible and becomes part of your medical record. These documents are also often coupled with the medical power of attorney paperwork, so consider making sure your doctor has access to all your important medical directives.
- Make a last will and testament
Your will is a crucial component of your estate plan. This important document serves 2 distinct purposes. First, it outlines who will receive your assets after your death. If you have minor children, it also designates who will be their guardian. Without a will, a judge likely will make both of these determinations. “You probably have a distinct idea of who you want to inherit your assets or raise your children,” Arnett says. “But if you don’t record your preferences in a will, a judge may make a decision that’s far from what you intended.”
A will can be as simple or as complex as your estate requires. Begin by contacting an experienced attorney, who can walk you through the process. Many offer flat fees for drafting a basic will, which can range from $300 to $1,000 or more. You may also want to consult with your financial advisor to help you inventory and organize your financial assets.
You’ll also need to designate an executor—the person or institution who will oversee the management of your estate and will carry out the instructions of your will. You may also want to designate an alternative in case the person you choose is subsequently unable or unwilling to serve as executor. Their tasks may include taking inventory or your assets, selling your property, and paying your taxes. In selecting an executor, choose someone you view as responsible, levelheaded, and trustworthy. Also make sure they’re willing to take on the responsibility of being the executor or your estate.