Estate Planning: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Safety Net

By Martin Brown

Financial planningIf you’re an immortal, you don’t need to give any thought to estate planning. If that’s not the case and you’re a single woman with plans for the future, planning for the disposition of your estate is an important item for your, “To Do” list.

Women under thirty-five or forty, who hear me say that, often have an inquisitive look that is followed by a quick “Why?”

If you haven’t done any estate planning, I hope you’ll change your thinking about that. Let me give you the best reason in the world, and then you decide:

If you wait too long, it may be too late.

Most commonly, singles tell me that they have no estate plans in place because they feel that one, it’s much too early to thing about such things and two, they have no one particular in mind to whom they would bequeath their earthly possessions. This is particularly true of singles who have not yet, or have no plans to become parents.

This is faulty logic. It’s akin to saying “I’m not opening an IRA because I have no plans to ever retire”or  “I don’t know where I would want to live as a senior” or “I’m not buying a home or condo because I have no idea what my future will be.” Investing in real estate, or setting aside retirement funds, doesn’t mean you have to plan out every detail of your life from twenty-eight to seventy-eight. It simply means that you recognize these are things will have an important impact on your future, and the time to lay down some initial plans is now.

You can always change your plans and desired designations for retirement savings, just like you can change your housing plans. But you can’t simply conjure up retirement savings or home equity when you have done nothing to start down that path.

And so it is with estate planning. Today your principal beneficiary may be your sister or brother. Five years from now it might be your husband, and ten years from now, it maybe your son or daughter. As you mature through life, these realities change but considering how you would like to dispose of your estate is something that can begin right now.

I’m always amazed and saddened by the fact that hundreds of the people who died on 9/11, many of whom worked in the financial investment field, had no wills or life insurance policies in place. Why should they? A healthy thirty-one year-old has decades to think about such things, right?

Wrong. And because of that misperception, a lot of widows, and widowers, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, friends and loved ones lost the benefit of a final statement from those who died at far too young an age.

So what should you do to get started with creating an initial estate plan today, this week, or certainly this year? It’s a lot easier than most people think, here are three steps to get you started:

Meet with an estate lawyer, to draw up a will.

First, purchase one of a variety of software packages that give you a great head start in planning and executing a will. Be sure to complete the questions you’ll be asked, so that an attorney has the necessary information to put your will together without asking many of the same basic questions. This saves you time, and most importantly cuts down on your attorney cost. But don’t cut corners on knowing that your paperwork is done right. That’s where the attorney comes in. When it is needed, the time you spend seeing that it was properly executed will make an important difference.

Second, you’ll want more than just a will: you also should have a durable power of attorney and, very important, a healthcare proxy.

Just like no one wants to think about dying, people hate to think about needing a healthcare directive. Get over your reluctance. These directives don’t tell you before takeoff that your seat can be used as a floatation device because the pilot is planning to attempt a water landing. You’re signing a care directive for the “what if” situation. A decision that needs to be made up front.

Third, name an executor who is responsible for overseeing your estate from the time of your death until the time that your wishes are carried out and your assets distributed.

This is a significant and trusted individual in your life so choose carefully. Remember that this is not your decision alone, so plan on sitting down with the person you want to name as executor and review their responsibilities so they know what is expected.

Finally, remember that when you have an estate plan in place it needs to be reviewed every few years.

Our life priorities change with the passage of time. Marriage, divorce, death of a friend or primary family, the birth of each child, a decision to adopt, a dramatic change in your financial standing—even the decision to reside in other state or country—are all issues that can affect the viability and validity of your estate plans.

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