The short answer is, yes, estate planning can be a smart move for everyone.
Though it’s not much fun to think about what will happen to your loved ones after you are gone, doing some estate planning early on, and readjusting it as needed throughout your lifetime, can help you prepare for the future and protect the people you care about.
One of the biggest reasons why is that without an estate plan, any assets you have may not go to the people you would have wanted to have them. And, if you have children, you won’t have a say in who becomes their guardian.
Not having an estate plan can also create a lot of legal and administrative headaches for your family members and friends.
Contrary to what many people assume, you don’t have to be old, rich, or have children to benefit from making a financial plan for after you are gone.
Read on to learn what estate planning is all about and what you can do to get started.
What is an Estate Plan?
Estate planning is deciding in advance and in writing who will get your assets and money after your death or in the event that you become incapacitated.
It can be as simple as designating certain people as your beneficiaries on your financial accounts. Estate planning also typically includes creating a will. It can also include setting up trusts and creating a living will that can be used should you ever become incapacitated.
Your “estate” is simply everything you own—money and assets, including your home and your car—at the time of your death.
Your debts are also part of your estate—anything you owe on credit cards and loans may have to be paid off first by your estate before any further money or assets are distributed to your heirs.
Estate planning is not entirely about money, though. It may also leave instructions for how your incapacitation or death may be handled.
For instance, you may not want to be kept on a life-support system if you were in a coma. You may want to be cremated instead of buried. These instructions can be included in your estate planning.
An estate plan may also include choosing a guardian for your children and any specific wishes regarding how you want them to be raised.
The Importance of an Estate Plan
An estate plan can be beneficial no matter what your age, income, assets, or family status. Below are some key reasons why you may want to consider estate planning.
You Decide Where You Assets Will Go
If you don’t have beneficiaries named in an estate plan, the courts will determine who gets your assets. That might be your closest kin (possibly someone you wouldn’t want to have your inheritance), and if you have none, the state may take those assets.
Likely you have someone who you would prefer to leave assets to, and if not, you can choose a charity.
You Have Children
If you have children, it’s important for you to consider how you want them cared for if you and your spouse were to pass away, and who you would want to be their guardians.
Your estate plan can even outline how you hope to pass on aspects of your life such as religion, education, and other values. You can also set up a trust so that your children receive an inheritance once they are 18.
It Can Help Avoid Legal Headaches
If you have beneficiaries you want to leave your assets to, having an estate plan and/or will can minimize the legal headache your loved ones have to deal with.
Without any kind of estate plan, a probate court may have to determine how assets are divided, and this can take months or years, delaying those assets making it to the people you want to have them.
It Can Help Prevent Family Conflict
Your family members may all get along well, but it’s a good idea to write a will so that things remain harmonious.
Regardless of the size of your estate, some careful estate planning can help prevent your family members from arguing over who gets what, whether it’s a small tiff or a full-on lawsuit.
It Can Ease the Financial Burden of Final Costs
Many people don’t consider planning their own funerals, and that may leave an emotional and financial burden on their loved ones.
A funeral can cost, on average, around $7,000, and a cremation about $6,000. Consider whether your loved ones would be in a financial situation to be able to afford to cover that expense, plus any others involved with your final arrangements.
Taking these final costs into consideration can be a part of your estate plan. You might decide to set aside funds to cover your funeral expenses.
You can do this with a “payable on death” account, which can be set up through your bank and allows the designated beneficiaries to receive the money in the account when you pass away.
Or, you might elect to purchase a prepaid funeral plan, which sends money directly to the funeral home to cover a casket, floral arrangements, service, and other aspects of your funeral. You may want to keep in mind, however, that prepaying for a funeral can lead to a loss of money if the funeral home goes out of business.
What’s Included in an Estate Plan
While your estate plan will be unique to your own situation, there are a few things you might consider including.
Your will is the actual document that outlines who your beneficiaries are and what they will receive upon your passing. It may also identify a guardian if you have young children.
This is also where you can identify the executor, who will carry out the terms of your will.
Life Insurance Policy
Having this policy information with the rest of your estate plan makes it easy for your family to file a claim with your insurance company upon your death.
A Living Will
Death is not the only situation in which you may be unable to make a decision. You may be alive yet incapacitated, and in this scenario it can be difficult for your loved ones to know what you want them to do.
A living will can be highly valuable because it lays out how you want to be treated during your end-of-life care, including specific treatments to take or refrain from taking.
A living will is often combined with a durable power of attorney, a legal document that can allow a surrogate to make decisions on behalf of the incapacitated individual.
Letter of Intent
This letter is directed to your executor, and provides instructions for carrying out your wishes in regards to your will, and possibly also funeral arrangements.
If you have a sizable inheritance for your beneficiaries and don’t want them to have access to all the funds all at once, you can establish a trust with rules about how and when they receive the money.
For example, you could stipulate that your children receive a fixed allowance each month until they graduate college or get married, or that they use the money for college.
Key Account Information
You might also consider providing account numbers and passwords for bank accounts, investment accounts, and other important accounts that your family will need access to. This can make life much simpler for your loved ones.
Whether you have children and want to ensure they’re taken care of, or you’re single and would like your assets to go to certain people or a charity you care about, it’s wise to have a basic estate plan.
Having a financial plan in place in the event that you pass away or become incapacitated can protect surviving family members from unnecessary financial, legal and emotional stress.
Not sure where or how to start estate planning? SoFi, in partnership with Ladder, now offers estate planning as part of SoFi Protect.
SoFi members can create their will for free and, for a fee, other estate-planning needs, including setting up a living trust and establishing power of attorney—all through Ladder.
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