By Jeffrey R. Wolfe, Senior Vice President and Manager, Wealth Planning StrategiesPrint This Post
In an effort spearheaded by the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils, October 17 is the beginning of National Estate Planning Awareness Week. The goal of the week is to help people understand what estate planning is, and why it is such an important aspect to your financial wellbeing. As such, look for a few blogs this week to address estate planning issues you should consider.
To start, it is estimated that more than half of the American population does not have a complete estate plan. A common misconception is that estate planning is only for the wealthy. This is not true. Most people, regardless of wealth, have an idea of how they would like their assets distributed in the event of a death or who they would prefer to make decisions for them in the event of incapacity. This desire for control is the true purpose for estate planning but failing to implement a plan to assure these goals will be achieved is a common oversight.
Therefore, consider reviewing whether you have a will or a trust to control your assets at death. Determine whether you have financial and health care powers of attorney to assure your goals will be met should you become incapacitated. If you don’t have these documents in place, or if you are unsure or unfamiliar with these planning techniques, work with your legal advisor and your financial advisor to begin implementing your plan.
Even if you do have proper estate planning documents in place, be sure to review them to make sure they still reflect your intentions. Reviewing your plan at least every three to five years helps to make sure your legacy goals will be met. Changes in your life or the life of your beneficiaries, like a birth, death, marriage or divorce, may also prompt a reason to review and potentially update your estate plan. Lastly, changes in the law, such as tax changes, may require you to modify your plan as well.
Remember if you don’t proactively establish your intentions with a proper estate plan, your state has default provisions on where your assets will go when you pass away and what type of decisions will be made for you should you become incapacitated. Many times, the state’s default rules do not align with your legacy goals. Take the initiative to create and update your estate plan so your intentions can be followed.