In the past few years we have seen many stories on the news about athletes, musicians, and other celebrities who died without wills and the resulting legal disputes between families. While you might not be a world famous celebrity, there are some really good reasons why you should consider taking a thorough inventory of your wealth and creating an estate plan now:
- It will be easier for family members to help you in a crisis. Estate planning includes both disability and death. In the event of a medical crisis or a nursing home situation, your loved ones need to know your financial details and your wishes regarding your medical care – and be able to act accordingly. With a properly drawn up financial power of attorney and advance payment order, they can act on your behalf, and an inventory of your income and assets enables them to do everything from paying your mortgage to feeding your dog.
- It saves family members from playing detective. Don’t let loved ones spend precious time reconstructing your financial situation by rummaging through shoeboxes in your closet that are filled with old bank statements, piles of mail, and tax returns. Make it easy for them – keep a simple notebook listing your bank accounts, CDs, investment accounts, and retirement plans along with information about your sources of income and the names of your financial advisor, tax advisor, and lawyer. And be sure to let your family know where to find the notebook with your important papers.
- It can save you – and your family members – time and money. By sitting down and making a comprehensive list of all of your assets, you can see how complicated (or not) your financial picture can be. Do you have assets with three different banks and two different credit unions? Time to simplify! Close the smaller accounts and consolidate. Do you still have old 401 (k) money that is spread across multiple broker accounts? Consolidate these accounts and rebalance your portfolio. Do you keep individual share certificates or savings bonds in a safe deposit box? Transfer the shares to your brokerage account and register the bonds on the US Treasury Department’s website so you and your loved ones can more easily manage them. By managing these things now, you can make your life easier and save your loved ones the time and expense if you become incapacitated or die.
- It can ensure that your assets are disposed of the way you want them to be. By making a will and reviewing your assets with your advisor, you ensure that you decide where your assets end up – not in the court system. Also, be sure to review and update the beneficiary designations on assets such as retirement accounts, 401 (k) plans, and life insurance policies, as these assets are disposed of through the beneficiary designation and not your will.
- It can help you minimize or even eliminate certain taxes. Let’s face it – none of us like to pay taxes. And while most of us don’t have to worry about inheritance taxes when we die (under applicable law, no state inheritance taxes are charged until an estate is over $ 11,700,000, and Maryland inheritance taxes are not levied until an estate is over $ 5,000. A thorough asset listing and estate plan can address all inheritance tax risks as well as inheritance taxes, capital gains taxes, and even some charitable tax planning for those of us who are philanthropic.
So remember: a good estate plan is like flood insurance – if you don’t have it when you need it, it’s too late. Take the time to invest in peace for yourself and your family.