What is an estate plan?

Estate planning is more extensive than simply writing a will.  It is often thought of as a two part process.  One part is the planning the management and transfer of your property during life and after death.  The second part addresses your needs and care if you are no longer able to take care of yourself.

Before you prepare any estate planning documents, you should do some basic thinking.  First, you need to think about your objectives with regard to transferring your assets to your heirs, friends and charities.  Second, you need to understand the full extent of your property.  That is, what exactly is in your estate, and what is your estate worth?  The value of your estate is important in determining your estate plan because larger estates are subject to estate tax and require more complex planning.  Other matters of concern are how title is held to your assets and the disposition of the proceeds of life insurance or retirement benefits.

You also need to think about who will receive your assets at your death – your initial beneficiaries and, if those first beneficiaries die before you do, who would then receive your assets.  Perhaps you would want to consider more distant relatives, special friends, or a charity.  You also need to think about who will administer your estate after your death, that is, who will be your executor.  This should be a person whom you trust and who will be active and able to assist in marshalling your assets (what assets are there and where they are), paying bills and keeping an account, and distributing assets according to your wishes.

After you’ve though about your assets and their transfer, you should then consider plans for taking care of yourself and managing your estate if you’re no longer able to do so.  Who would help you?  Where would you want to live?  How much income will you have?
Everyone needs estate planning, regardless of the size of the estate.  The information in this article is provided for general information only.  If you have any questions about estate planning please contact a competent estate planning attorney.