This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. Preparing an estate is essential and people from all economic levels benefit from an estate plan. Upon death, an estate plan legally protects and distributes property based on your wishes and the needs of your family/survivors with the fewest tax consequences. Here are a few things you should know about planning your estate.
A will is the most practical first step in estate planning. It makes clear how you want your property to be distributed after your demise. Writing a will can be as simple as typing out how you want your assets to be transferred to loved ones or charitable organizations.
If you do not have a will at the time of your demise, your estate will be handled in probate, and your property could be distributed differently than how you would like. Here are a few things to remember when writing your will,
- Age Requirement. In most states, you must be 18 years of age or older to write a will.
- Validity. To be valid, a will must be written when you are of sound judgment and adequate mental capacity.
- Conciseness. The document must clearly state that it is your will.
You will have to name an executor of your estate. This is someone who will ensure your estate is distributed according to your wishes. It is not necessary to notarize or record your will, but doing so safeguard against any claims that are invalid. For the will to be valid, it must be signed in the presence of at least two witnesses. Please know that a financial will and testament will always supersede a last will and testament when bestowing financial assets.
It may help to seek legal advice when writing a will, particularly when it comes to understanding all of the rules of the estate disposition process in your state. Some states have community property laws that entitle your surviving spouse to keep at least half of your wealth, no matter what percentage you leave him or her in your will.
Choosing an executor
As discussed earlier, an executor is the person who is responsible for settling your estate after your death. Some of the duties of an executor include:
- Taking inventory of your property and belongings.
- Appraising and distributing assets.
- Paying taxes.
- Settling debts owed by the deceased.
Most important, the executor is legally obligated to act in the interests of the deceased, following the wishes stated in the will. Here again, it can be helpful to consult an attorney to help with the probate process or offer legal guidance. In most states, any person who is over the age of 18 and who has not been convicted of a felony can be named the executor of a will.
Some people choose a lawyer, accountant, or financial consultant based on his or her professional experience. Others choose a spouse, adult child, relative or friend. Since the role of executor can be demanding, it is often a good idea to ask the person if he or she is willing to serve in that capacity.
If you have been named the executor of someone’s will but are not able or do not want to serve, you will need to file a “declination” which is a legal document that declines your designation as an executor. The contingent executor named in the will then assumes responsibility. If no contingent executor is named, then the court will appoint one.
As you write your will, you need to decide who you want to inherit your assets to ensure that your possessions are dispersed as you want. Primary beneficiaries are your first choice to receive your assets. You should also consider choosing secondary or contingent beneficiaries. If your primary beneficiary precedes you in death or does not meet a condition, such as age, for inheritance, your secondary beneficiaries will receive your assets. Designating a secondary beneficiary can also prevent going through probate, which can be time consuming and expensive. Use specific names instead of broad categories like “nieces and nephews” when naming beneficiaries in your will.
You should also add primary and secondary beneficiaries on your individual bank accounts, the deeds to your homes, titles to your cars, contents of your safe deposit boxes, investments, and insurance policies to make it easier to transfer assets. Also, remember that giving someone power of attorney does not automatically make this person a beneficiary of your assets. After your demise, this person will not have the right to the money or even the right to access your account. If you want this person to be a beneficiary you must state this in your will.
What is Probate?
Probate is a legal process that takes place after your demise. It involves proving that your will is valid, identifying all of your property, paying debts and taxes, and distributing your remaining property as the will directs.
Write A Digital Asset Plan
In today’s information age, more and more things you buy and own are intangible items, such as digital books, music, and photos stored online. You may have online accounts with retailers, financial institutions, or digital media subscriptions for streaming TV and movies. In addition, some things are stored on your behalf, like social media profiles, email accounts, blogs, airline frequent flyer miles, and credit card reward points.
What happens to these after your demise? You should consider creating a digital asset plan. This document should state how you would like these assets and online accounts to be handled. You should appoint someone you trust as a digital asset executor. This person will be responsible for closing your online accounts, subscriptions, social media profiles, and handling of all of your electronic assets after you are deceased. Take the steps below to help you draft your digital asset plan.
- Review the terms and conditions of each company where you have digital assets and profiles to know their policies when a customer dies.
- State how you would like your profiles to be handled. You may want to cancel your accounts or profiles completely or keep it open for friends and family to use.
- Include a list of all the companies where you have digital accounts, along with your usernames and passwords with your will.
- If the account is for a fee-based service, include the credit card or bank account numbers that are used to pay for the service, so that the executor can contact the companies to stop charges.
- Stipulate in your will that the executor of your digital asset plan should have a copy of your death certificate. He or she may need this as proof for websites and service providers to take actions on your behalf.
- Check to see if the companies have account management features that let you assign access to friends and family ahead of time.
I hope this helps you make sure that you plan your estate to your liking. No one likes to think or talk about death, but just like taxes, death is certain. Your family will be grieving, make your transition as easy on them as possible. If you don’t have a will now, please prepare one as soon as possible.