This is common. We all know we will die at some point—but not many of us enjoy thinking about the topic. So, there is an inherent hesitation built in when it comes time to learn about estate planning and make choices related to this. As a starting point, it is helpful to know, or at least think about, the following things before meeting with an estate planner:
- The components of your estate, and their approximate value. This means everything that will pass to others as a result of your death. Real estate, bank accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance proceeds, everything. Don’t forget about debts, either.
- How your assets are currently titled, and whether any accounts have beneficiary designations. This is extremely important and often overlooked. If you died today, before signing a will or making any further plans, do you have any accounts or property that would automatically pass to certain people? This could happen if you own an account jointly with another, or if you had designated a particular person as the beneficiary on an account.
- The people (or organizations) you wish to benefit following your death. Are any of your intended beneficiaries minor children? Are any of them adults with disabilities? Do your intended beneficiaries manage money well? Do you trust them to spend their inheritance wisely? If your chosen beneficiaries die before you do, where should their shares go? Do you have charitable intent? Is there anyone you specifically do not wish to benefit? How important is it to avoid estate taxes?
- The friends or family members you trust the most. Who would you trust to handle your affairs if you became incapacitated? To make healthcare decisions for you if you were unable to do so? To manage a trust for the benefit of a loved one? How important is it for you to make the administration of your estate easy for your loved ones? Are you willing to spend extra time and money during your lifetime to spare them additional trouble and costs later on?