One of the most important yet often overlooked tasks is estate planning. It isn't pleasant to think about dying and people sometimes think they have plenty of time. However, that can change in a minute and the last thing you want to do is to leave your survivors to deal with all of it. Many people don't prepare because they really don't know where to start. Chandler & Knowles CPAs has a team of experts who are ready to help you navigate estate planning.
Basic Estate Planning
Estate planning is simply the act of designating how you want your assets distributed, who will be the executor or trustee of your estate, and ensuring that your loved ones will be taken care of in the event of your death. It is essential to have a concrete, legal way to minimize income tax, estate tax, gift tax, and other taxes that are assessed when an estate goes into probate. Important documents include:
- Last will & testament
- Revocable trust
- Medical power of attorney/living will
- Durable power of attorney
- Letter of intent
- Digital assets
- Policies, deeds, etc.
Last Will & Testament
Your last will and testament communicate your wishes as to the dispensation of your money, property, belongings, and other items of real or sentimental value. Additionally, it names a guardian for anyone that is in your care such as a child, pet, or challenged adult. Part of your will should include an executor—someone who you trust to carry out the terms of the will. It is important to know that a will does not prevent your assets from going through probate.
A revocable living trust is similar to a will in that you can include the beneficiaries of your property in the trust. It does not allow for naming guardians, managing a child's property, designating an executor, or instructions on how taxes or debts are to be paid. The advantages of a revocable living trust are that it keeps the estate out of probate, decreases the opportunity for estate disputes, provides tax savings, and makes the document private. A revocable living trust allows for naming a trustee.
Medical Power of Attorney/ Living Will
In order to avoid difficult decisions later, it is best to have a medical power of attorney and a living will. This document outlines the life-saving measures you desire to be used or not used in circumstances where you are incapacitated. The parameters for specifications can be as wide or detailed as you want.
Durable Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney or POA names a person or persons that you wish to make financial or legal decisions for you—should you become unable to communicate.
Life insurance, bank accounts, and retirement plans should all include a beneficiary. When you assign a beneficiary, it takes precedence over a will.
Letter of Intent
Writing a letter of intent will allow you to express other directions for things that you want to occur upon your death. This letter is not a legal document but should detail funeral arrangements, memorial service instructions, and so forth. You might want to include the songs you want to be played, if the event should be somber or joyful, who you want to speak, etc.
Digital assets such as your email account, photos, online platforms like Facebook or Twitter, and passwords could be listed on your letter of intent or separately kept track of on one document. Put this in a safe place and inform your executor or trustee of its location.
Policies, Deeds, Etc.
Important documents such as insurance policies, real estate deeds, birth certificates, marriage and divorce records, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, retirement or annuity information, bank accounts, etc. should be kept in a safe, dry space. Inform your trustee or executor of the place these are stored. Having a list of account numbers and contact information for all bills and accounts is also a wise course of action. This will help to make the settlement of your estate easier.
If you need professional assistance with estate planning and end of life details, contact our estate planners at Chandler & Knowles, CPAs.