Give yourself a gift that will last a lifetime. You will feel better when you have decision made and plans written down. People spend a lifetime working and building resources to carry them through their retirement years: an estate. “Estate planning” sounds like something only for the rich, yet few families today can do without it.
Some people avoid estate planning because it deals with attitudes and feelings about death, property ownership, business arrangements, marriage and family relationships. Others neglect or postpone estate planning with such excuses as “I’m too young,” “It’s too expensive,” or “I don’t have time.”
But isn’t it worth investing some time and money now to avoid the confusion, delay, expense and family quarreling that might occur if you die without an estate plan? If you don’t make a plan, federal and state law decide what happens to your estate.
Estate planning is basically, the process of arranging your affairs to meet your objectives regarding the use, conservation, and disposal of your property. It involves the coordination of all your properties into a total program including stocks, bonds, cash, real estate, business interests, life insurance, retirement benefits, and other assets.
You can’t take these “riches” with you. Someone is going to inherit your property, so it seems only sensible to have the results of your efforts distributed according to your wishes and conserved, as much as possible from estate and inheritance taxes and other costs of estate settlement. Plus, when families fight it hurts worse than any other kind of fight there is lack of planning can divide families forever.
There are six basic steps in the estate planning process:
1. Initiate the discussion. This may be the greatest hurdle in the path of most families lack of communication. It can be uncomfortable and some may think estate planning is unnecessary or too soon to start such discussions now is the time. Find opportunities to initiate the discussion we have educational brochures at the Extension Office (free) that can help begin discussions.
2. Take stock of the present. Make a critical review of your present financial situation. This is crucial because it is the foundation of your entire estate plan. The end result will be satisfactory only if the information is complete.
3. Develop objectives. As you begin forming an estate plan, think about objectives for your estate. What do you want to accomplish? Objectives vary from family to family due to differences in liabilities and assets, abilities and ages of survivors, number of children, and values that are important to the person making the estate plan. Remember that objectives may change with your age, marital status, income, amount and kind of property, and other situations.
4. Choose professional advisors and discuss objectives. Estate planning is technical and complex. Most people do not have enough time to learn all they need to know to plan an estate thoroughly or to keep up with changes in state and federal laws. That’s where professionals, such as attorneys, accountants, financial advisers, trust officers, and life insurance underwriters, can help.
When working with the professions to design and implement the estate plan, be aware they may have different opinions. You have the final say, however. It’s important that you be as knowledgeable as possible about your objectives, your situation, and various estate planning alternatives and consequences. Ask questions. Insist on understanding the plan and its implications.
5. Consider alternatives and implement the plan. There may be several ways to reach your objectives. Ask your professional advisers to explain the alternatives. Explore the consequences of each one. Decide who is to receive what, when, and how.
You may need a sounding board someone to talk things over with, try ideas on, and get reactions from. This may be your spouse, a friend, a partner, minister, etc. A sounding board can help you explore the needs of your beneficiaries, your property and its value to your family, and the proper balance between providing for your own future and meeting your estate planning objectives.
It doesn’t do you any good to do all the steps to plan the plan, unless you implement the plan! Finish step 5 by being sure to implement the plan.
6. Review and modify. Once your estate plan is completed, you can relax but only temporarily. We live in a world of continuous change, so your plan should change with your circumstances.
For example, the value or nature of your property may change; your objectives may change; recipients may marry, divorce, die or have children; or tax laws may be revised.
You may want to review your estate plan every three to five years, or whenever there is a major change in your situation or the tax laws.
There are free educational materials on Estate Planing available from K-State Research and Extension at www.ksre.ksu.edu The information is very simple and basic, it will give you good information to know what kinds of questions to ask and a beginning to understanding the importance of estate planning.