Posted by Shelly Eweka.
Everyone has an estate plan—whether by accident or design. If you die without a will or will substitute, the laws of your state will determine how your assets are divided , not you. Whereas, if you design your own estate plan, you get to take direct control of your legacy.
Millions of Americans never get around to the important task of determining what estate planning documents they should have, to ensure proper distribution of their assets after they’re gone. One reason is that many people lack any obvious heirs to leave their property to.
The very presence of children—in all their messy, awesome glory—can force people to get serious about seeing an attorney to understand their estate planning needs —and therefore, think differently about their legacy.
Families without children need to buckle down to the task and spell out more forthrightly how we want our assets to be distributed—as well as who should handle what in the event of a health crisis.
Here’s a quick checklist of roles to assign:
- The beneficiary designation for your 403(b) and all investment assets are of crucial importance. A will cannot override this designation, so make sure your chosen beneficiary (which many of us designate when starting at a job, then quickly forget) is the one you wish to bequeath all your retirement assets to.
- For your will, you’ll need to designate an executor. If you’re married, the natural choice is your spouse—but it’s also important to name a backup executor for your estate, just in case.
- A living will, or advance directive, spells out the treatment you would like to receive if you’re ever on life support. Unless you’ve stated otherwise, medical professionals have a duty to prolong life even after you’re declared “brain-dead.”
- It’s also a good idea to elect a medical power of attorney to make difficult end- of-life decisions for you.
- If you have a larger estate, you may decide to set up a trust, and will therefore need to pick a trustee. When designating such a person, it makes sense to choose someone who is likely to outlive you. In the absence of a son or daughter, you may turn to a younger friend or one of your siblings’ children.
- Unfortunately, incapacity can strike any of us at any time. In the event that you become mentally impaired, you’ll need to authorize someone now, a durable power of attorney, to handle your affairs. As with your will, name a primary person (maybe your spouse) and an alternative (perhaps a niece or nephew).
Consider involving a local estate planning attorney right off the bat. Everyone should officially name someone to carry out their wishes. You’ll need to officially name the family members or friends you wish to carry out certain roles in the event of your death or incapacitation, and your attorney can help you make those difficult choices.