Get Professional Help with Estate Planning


What is Estate Planning?

Estate Planning is the process, during your life, of organizing the management and disposal of your estate after your death. It also covers planning for incapacity, and it may include tax planning.

Despite its importance, many people fail to get their affairs in order, gravely impacting their relatives and making a painful situation worse by adding uncertainty and legal costs to the process. Although it is difficult to think and talk about, it is an important part of your financial planning, regardless of your income and assets. Contrary to popular belief, a will is not all there is to financial planning, and different laws apply depending on where you are based.

Enlisting the help of professionals ensures that you follow the right steps to secure your legacy.

Reasons to get professional help

Estate planning is complex, and as any legal document, accuracy is crucial. To make sure that your wishes hold up in a court of law, or even if you just want a second opinion, getting professional help is always worth the investment. Here are some reasons why you should seek professional support:

  • Objectivity: Estate planning is a very personal matter, so having professional advice brings objectivity to potential weaknesses or deficiencies in your planning.
  • Financial expertise: Your estate plan should consider taxes, which are renowned for being impenetrable, except for professionals.
  • Legal expertise: Unless you are a lawyer, chances are you are not able to navigate laws and forms.
  • Stay up to date: New legislation can be introduced, or old laws revised. By having professional help, you are notified if any changes affect your planning and how to update it so that it is still legally binding.

Where to start?

If you are unsure of your current financial situation and what your assets are, take some time to follow this list. There is no need to complete it in one day, but remember that it is too easy procrastinate, so book some time to go through it:

  1. Take inventory: go around your property, making a list of all your valuables (the property itself, jewelry, vehicles, etc.).
  2. Think bigger: add to your inventory your non-tangible assets, such as pensions, insurance and bank accounts. Include the details of these and where any paperwork related to them is located.
  3. Debt: if you owe any debts, such as credit cards, mortgages, etc. include them to your list. As with your non-tangible assets, add details and where paperwork is located.

This simple list is a crucial starting point to visualize your assets and it is the starting point to an initial conversation with a professional.

5 Key Components of your Estate Plan

  1. Last Will and Testament

A will is a legally binding document that ensures your property is distributed according to your wishes at your death. Without a will, your assets follow a process called probate, in which the state determines how your assets are distributed based on the jurisdiction’s law.

Bear in mind that a will only covers probate property and some of possessions pass outside of probate, hence the importance of designating beneficiaries.

  1. Financial Power of Attorney

A Financial Power of Attorney designates an individual to make your financial decisions when you are unable to do so yourself. 

  1. Living Will and Healthcare Power of Attorney

A living will define what you want to be done regarding medical care if you are terminally ill, or unable to communicate. This details information about life support or any type of resuscitation measures that may be implemented. A Healthcare Power of Attorney designates an individual to make important healthcare decisions on your behalf in the event of incapacity.

  1. Beneficiary Designations

Leave your assets to several different heirs by listing them as a beneficiary. This means your heirs receive your assets even if they are not mentioned in the official will.  Ensure that your insurance plans contain a beneficiary and a backup beneficiary as well.

  1. Letter of Intent

Finally, a letter of intent is just a letter that you leave to your executor where you outline your wishes regarding a particular asset after your death or incapacitation. Some also detail funeral preferences or other special last wishes. 

 

Finding professional help

Numerous attorneys offer estate planning services, but there is more to estate planning than preparing legal documents.  It is a hassle to assemble your own estate plan team, with an attorney, financial advisor, and tax professional. Instead, it is easier to choose an all-round service. Here are some recommended providers:

Northwestern Mutual

This long-established mutual company has an impressive customer service, demonstrated by 96% of their customers remaining loyal year over year. By filling out a simple form with your details and financial goals, you start a conversation with your Northwestern Mutual advisor. They help you coordinate your estate plan to do things like set up trusts, decrease estate taxes, protect your assets from mismanagement. They advise you on how to minimize inheritance taxes paid on the assets you leave behind.

LegalZoom

With 20 years’ experience providing web-based legal services, LegalZoom offers affordable packages and legal advice 365 days a year. Create your estate plan from the comfort of your own home, which regardless of your home state, is legally binding in all 50 states. Service prices vary by state, and can start as low as $179.

Fidelity

Fidelity offers their customers a free online tool to create an organized summary of assets. Use the Fidelity Wealth services, where dedicated advisors provide access to planning and ongoing investment management. This is based on your financial picture, including guidance on estate-planning strategies. Fidelity works in partnership with LegalZoom, offering 20% discount to those customers who hire an attorney through LegalZoom.