A: What long-term impact do you want to have on the people and causes that are important to you? Legacy questions are tough and estate planning, an essential part of documenting your intentions, can be complex. One way to get the process started is to consider the following basic steps:
1. An updated will. Your will is a legal document that spells out your wishes about who will inherit specific assets after your death. A properly drafted will can play a critical role in minimizing your estate’s exposure to taxes. If you should die without a legally binding will in place, courts may end up making decisions about who benefits from your estate, regardless of your best intentions. Be sure to review your will regularly.
2. Owned property. If you are married and own property you intend to gift, check state laws to see how regulations may affect your estate. In some states, property owned prior to marriage can be treated as separate property belonging to just one spouse. In other states, called “Community Property” states, all property acquired prior to or during marriage is considered owned by both spouses. Review your property and make sure it is set up within your estate to benefit your chosen recipient(s).
3. Beneficiary statements. Review your beneficiary designations, and make sure they align with your wishes. Check your beneficiaries for retirement plans (401(k)s, 403(b)s, etc.), IRAs, bank accounts and insurance policies. Keep in mind that beneficiaries you name on these accounts take precedence over those named in a will. It is important to regularly review beneficiaries, particularly after major life changes such as marriage, the birth of children or grandchildren, divorce, etc.