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Why Do I Need Estate Planning? A Comprehensive Guide to Safeguarding Your Family’s Future

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You can not predict life. Everyone hopes for a long and healthy life, but attaining it is difficult. It’s important that we care for our loved ones in the event of our passing or an unexpected illness.

Observations show that around 67% of Americans are without plans after an unthinkable event like death. 

This lenient attitude to life results in leaving the family members completely derailed. You must know how to distribute whatever wealth they have accumulated during their days.

This guide is an eye-opener or, better yet, an awareness builder. It answers the question of ‘what is estate planning.’ Besides, the guide safeguards your family’s future through proper estate planning. But before we get into the how, let’s start with the why.

Why Do You Need Estate Planning?

Why Do You Need Estate Planning?

Estate planning helps you:

  • Keep yourself awake from the darkness of confusion and clearly outline the pathway of asset distribution.
  • Ensure all your possessions go to the people or causes you care about most.
  • Bring down the family’s financial burden by helping them avoid taxes and probate fees.
  • Designate people you trust. This will also help you manage your finances or make medical decisions regarding property.

These are some of the reasons you’d need estate planning.

Given the complexities involved in asset distribution, you need the help of attorneys like Keele & Parke or others with experience in this sector.

These experts have the knowledge to guide you in every stage of the assets division. Besides, it ensures things go as smoothly as possible. Moreover, you will have a better idea of the question,’ What is estate planning?’.

The legal experts provide you with the most clear knowledge and updates on every development linked to the case. 

Ultimately, you get the much-required peace of mind.  You know that your lawyers are beside you, helping you maximize your wishes for the property division.

Now, how do you get started with the estate planning process?

Mapping Your Assets and Liabilities

Mapping Your Assets and Liabilities

Before you can figure out how to distribute your assets, you’ve got to know what’s in there in the first place.

Assets

Your assets are the things you own that have actually got value. This can include your real estate holdings, financial accounts (think investment accounts, savings accounts, 401(k), IRAs, etc.), and personal property (cars, furniture, etc.).

Liabilities

What you owe before others must also come under your consideration. Moreover, while considering liabilities, you must focus on outstanding credit card balances. Besides, you must focus on mortgages and loans, as well as taxes owed. To get this right, you’ve got to take an inventory.

Why is an Inventory Important?

Preparing a list of assets draws a clear picture of your property.  Besides, ensure you don’t miss anything significant in the estate planning. Here’s a simple way to get started:

  • Procure the property deeds, account statements, life insurance policies, and titles.
  • Next, go through your house room by room. Listing all the items that have a huge market value (furniture, electronics, jewelry) with estimated values (garage sale value or online appraisals).
  • These days, music, digital photos, and online accounts do have their value. Hence, you must consider the approach to handling your property.

Here’s a tip: When you have a clear picture of your assets and liabilities, it can help you determine the exact estate value (assets minus liabilities). This will be impactful when you consider the most potential estate taxes.

Key Elements of Estate Planning

Here are some tools you’ll use to create your estate plan:

Wills

According to a study, only half of Americans actually have their own will of property (2)

Along with the answer to’ what is estate planning?’, you need to know what a will is. A will is the documentation segregating your property among the heirs. 

Moreover, it shows how you can share your assets with your beneficiaries after you die. Wills are a great starting point in your estate planning, and you can create them without much trouble.

Trusts

A trust is an arrangement bound by law. In it, you can transfer the ownership of your asset(money, property) to a trustee (a person or institution). This trustee helps segregate the property among the heirs that you mention.

You can have far greater control of your assets in the trust while you’re alive. Moreover, with irrevocable trusts, you generally tend to give up your control of assets. 

Once you have enlisted your assets in a trust, you are no longer the regulator. But you get the following benefits in return:

Benefits of Trusts

Trusts offer several advantages over wills:

  • Assets under a properly established trust typically evade probate, the legal process that oversees estate distribution and validates the will. Trusts save valuable time and money. Moreover, they prevent stress. 
  • Irrevocable trusts can protect assets from lawsuits and creditors.
  • Trusts allow you to get specialized guidance on the distribution of assets.
  • For example, you can create a trust that provides income for a beneficiary but prevents them from spending the principal until a certain age.

So, what should you choose between wills and trusts?

The best option for trust is meeting your specific needs and goals. A will can do if your estate is relatively simple and more so if you do not want the most complex inheritance wishes. 

If you want to avoid probate, we recommend you go for trust, as it provides a far better choice.

 Consult your attorney and determine the right approach to asset distribution based on the circumstances.

Beneficiary Designations

Naming beneficiaries on specific accounts allows you to receive the assets directly upon your passing. This way, they bypass the probate court. Here are some common examples:

  • Life Insurance policies: Designating a beneficiary for your life insurance policy ensures the payout goes directly to them after your death.
  • Retirement accounts (401(k), IRAs): These accounts often allow you to name beneficiaries who will receive the remaining balance after your death.
  • POD (Payable on Death) and TOD (Transfer on Death) accounts: These are designations you can make on bank accounts or investment accounts, specifying who inherits the funds upon your passing.

Beneficiary designations supersede your will in most cases. This means even if you leave an account to someone else, the designated beneficiary will receive the funds. So, ensure your beneficiary designations are up-to-date and reflect your current wishes.

Powers of Attorney

Say you become incapacitated or pass away today. Who would be the one left behind to make decisions on your behalf? That person you trust to make these decisions is legally said to have the power of attorney.

Financial Power of Attorney

This helps your hired authority manage your finances, including paying bills, accessing bank accounts, and making investment decisions.

Healthcare Power of Attorney (Living Will)

This document allows you to appoint someone to make medical decisions for you if you cannot do so yourself. You can outline your wishes for medical treatment in the living will.

Guardianship Considerations

If you have adult dependents or minor children, a will can be highly effective. A will allow you to designate a guardian to oversee the benevolence of the minor children. 

Simultaneously, it helps manage their assets.  Ultimately, it lets you have complete control and make sure that you look after your loved ones.

Planning for Different Scenarios

Your estate plan needs to be flexible enough to handle the most different situations. Here, we provide  some specific scenarios to consider:

Blended Families

First to consider are Blended families. These are the families in which the children or parents from previous relationships come together to create a new household. 

They make up about 21% of families in the US. Needless to say, this presents challenges in estate planning. (3)

Here are some key considerations:

  • You could call your spouse and children and discuss asset segregation with them(biological and step). This transparent move can disperse clouds of misunderstandings and resentment between and among people.
  • Carefully crafted wills and trusts can distribute assets according to your wishes. You must consider your current spouse and children from previous relationships.
  • Review your life insurance beneficiaries. It will help you to ensure they reflect your family structure.

This way, you can ensure both your families benefit from your estate according to your wishes.

Business Succession

If you own a business, you’ve got to plan for its future. Here are some options:

Buy-Sell Agreements

This is a legal agreement outlining how ownership will be transferred or bought out by the remaining partners in case of death or disability.

Succession Planning

Grooming a successor within the family or identifying a qualified buyer helps ensure the business continues smoothly.

Estate Taxes and Minimization Strategies

The federal estate tax applies to estates exceeding a certain threshold (which is adjusted periodically). While it likely won’t impact everyone, it’s good to be aware of it.

In 2024, the federal estate tax exemption stood at USD$13.61 million per person. This means estates valued under this amount generally won’t owe federal estate tax.

But if your estate exceeds the threshold, a progressive tax rate applies to the taxable amount above the exemption. The top rate can be as high as 40%. (4)

Exploring Minimization Strategies (Consult a Tax Advisor)

There are legal strategies to potentially reduce your estate tax liability. However, these can be complex and depend on your specific circumstances. Here’s a brief mention of a few options:

  • Gifting: Giving away assets during your lifetime can reduce the value of your taxable estate. There are annual gift tax exclusions, but tax implications exist, so consulting a tax advisor is essential.
  • Charitable giving: Donating to qualified charities can be a tax-efficient way to reduce your estate’s taxable value.

For personalized advice on minimizing your estate tax liability, consult a tax advisor.

In Closing

Hence, besides the answer to the question, ‘What is estate planning?’ you’ve seen firsthand knowledge of their importance. However, you should know that it’s not an easy process or one to take lightly. 

Get the experts involved in every step. This way, you’ll get the much-needed peace of mind knowing your family is well taken care of after your demise.

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