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  • Stacey Palmer

Did you make a New Year's Resolution to do your estate plan? It's easier than you think . . . .

It’s that time of year. Many people have long given up on their New Year's resolutions. However, if you made a resolution to get your estate plan done so your family will be protected, it isn't too late. When I work with my clients, I make it easy for them. I know that you want to ensure that your assets are preserved, managed and distributed properly should the unexpected happen.

Having an estate plan is truly a gift that you give to your loved ones. It is, however, a task many of us dread and put off dealing with until later in life. If there is one thing we can recommend, it is that it is never too early to start planning, but it can be too late. Do you have an estate plan that will provide for your loved ones in the event of death or upon incapacity?

If you are new to the concept of estate planning, it is easy to get overwhelmed, but don’t let that deter you. An easy place to start is with the basics.

What Is an Estate Plan?

An estate plan is a collection of legal documents that sets forth how you want your assets distributed when you pass away, and how you want people to handle health and financial decisions if you are unable to do so for yourself during your lifetime.

A comprehensive estate plan can help you feel more confident about the future, knowing your loved ones will be taken care of and that the legacy you leave behind is the one you want. Thoughtful planning now can help minimize taxes and probate fees, and ensure your family will have less to worry about when you are gone; however, failing to make plans for your estate can lead to unintended complications for your descendants.

Here Are Six Essential Estate Planning Documents:

· Will: The will is the standard document in most estate plans. The will names an executor, or personal representative, to administer the distribution of your assets as you intend. Your will can also appoint guardians of minor children who will oversee their custody and care until they become adults.

· Living or Revocable Trust: A revocable trust holds and provides management of your assets for your benefit while you are alive and names the people who will receive the property when you die. These trusts can also help with planning for incapacity. In some states, they also are used to simplify probate. While the living trust has advantages, some matters (e.g., funeral wishes) can only be covered in a will.

· Personal Property Memorandum: This document (depending on the state in which you reside) allows you to gift tangible personal property items such as furniture, jewelry, artwork and other things not covered in the will. The personal property memorandum is not as formal as the will and can be changed at any time.

· Durable Power of Attorney: This document appoints a trusted family member, friend or advisor as an agent to act on your behalf for financial and legal matters.

· Healthcare Directive: This document appoints someone you trust to make medical decisions for you when you no longer can, automatically giving that person access to your medical records – though some institutions may require more documentation for full access to medical records. It also expresses end-of-life care wishes such as pain relief and whether you would want a ventilator, feeding tube or resuscitation.

While it is important to have the right documents in place, there’s more to estate planning. Depending on the complexity of your estate, it may be beneficial to have a team of financial, tax and legal professionals to help guide you through the process and provide advice specific to your situation.

Also, remember to periodically review and update your existing estate plan. Drastic changes in laws, especially estate tax changes at the federal level and life changes such as marriage, divorce, or the birth or death of a family member may make it necessary for you to revise your plan.

The hardest thing to do is to take the first step and to make the call. If you contact me at 412-559-1742, I will relieve this burden for you by guiding your through the entire process.

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