A dream without a plan is simply a wish. Estate planning is not just about death and taxes — it puts you in the driver’s seat of your financial life, allowing you to set achievable goals. It is a great opportunity to focus on the legacy you want to leave behind for loved ones, help you avoid the expense and delay of probate, as well as help you save on taxes.
Putting Your Dreams on Paper
When putting together your estate plan, think about what legacy you want to leave behind. The best way to do so is to write down your wishes. Consider the values you want to promote through your plan. Think about important family traditions you want to encourage or memories you want to preserve. Rather than a dry discussion of what happens to your assets, including these wishes in your estate planning documents makes your plan relatable and more meaningful for your family. Because you’ve passed along values and wisdom along with your wealth, a comprehensive estate plan can help you achieve the dreams, hopes, and aspirations you have for your family, even though you are no longer with them.
For your estate plan to effectively pass along your values and wisdom, it should:
- clearly state who you are leaving your assets to;
- give an explanation as to why an individual is receiving a particular asset;
- provide guidance about how you want a beneficiary to benefit from your assets (e.g. what “education” you intend to help with, whether or how you want to instill a work ethic, what you mean by “support,” etc.);
- make sure that those assets are received by your beneficiaries at the right time to maximize their benefit, and
- protect your legacy from being taken by estate taxes, creditors, predatory lawsuits, government claims or divorce.
You even have the opportunity to protect your legacy beyond your beneficiaries’ lifetimes into future generations if you want to do so.
Estate Planning Basics & Benefits
There are several benefits of developing an estate plan with your legacy in mind. You can help the next generation become empowered to achieve competence, character, and confidence. You can also preserve and reinforce your family’s core values and traditions.
In addition to preserving your legacy after you die, a comprehensive estate plan can provide guidance for managing your affairs if you become incapacitated and unable make decisions for yourself. Some basic documents that should be included in your estate plan are:
A will: A written document that states who you want to inherit your property and names a guardian to care for your minor children or disabled family members. The use of a will as your primary estate planning strategy does require the court process known as probate.
A trust: A legal structure which holds property for your benefit during your life and for the benefit of your beneficiaries after your death. The use of a “fully funded” trust allows your beneficiaries to avoid the costly and time-consuming process of probate.
A healthcare directive: A written document that spells out your wishes for healthcare and end-of-life choices when you are unable to make these decisions for yourself.
A financial power of attorney: A written document giving a trusted person authority to handle your finances and property on your behalf.