Everyone has an estate. People often think that an “estate” is something only the wealthy have. But the Internal Revenue Code defines your estate, in simple terms, as everything you own— your car, home, other real estate, checking and savings accounts, investments, life insurance, business interests, furniture and personal possessions. No matter how large or how modest, everyone has an estate and something in common—you can't take it with you when you die.
When that happens—and it is a “when” and not an “if”—you probably want to control how those things are given to the people or charities you care most about. To make sure that your wishes are carried out, you need to leave directions identifying the persons you want to receive something of yours, what
you want them to receive, and when
they are to receive it. You will, of course, want this to happen with the least amount paid in taxes, legal fees, and court costs.That
is estate planning—making a plan in advance and naming who you want to receive the things you own after you die. However, a good estate plan is about more than just who gets your stuff after you die. It should also:
- Include instructions for your care if you become disabled before you die and appoint persons to make decisions in accordance with your instructions.
- Name a guardian and asset manager for minor children.
- Provide for family members with special needs without disrupting government benefits.
- Protect assets for loved ones who might be irresponsible with money or who may need protection from creditors or divorce.
- Consider insurance needs, potentially including:
- life insurance to provide for your family at your death
- disability income insurance to replace your income if you cannot work due to illness or injury
- long-term care insurance to help pay for your care in case of an extended illness or injury.
- Provide for the transfer of your business at your retirement, disability, or death.
- Balance the interests of your spouse and any children from prior marriages.
- Determine how much discretion your spouse will have to change your plan if you die first.
- Minimize taxes, court costs, and legal fees.
- Be an ongoing process, not a one-time event. Your plan should be reviewed and updated as your family and financial situations (and laws) change over your lifetime.