By their very nature, legacy questions can be challenging, and estate planning, which is fundamentally all about how you document your legacy intentions, can be complex. One way to get the ball rolling is to work with your estate planning attorney as you consider these basic steps from the Sonoma County Gazette's article "6 Basic Steps to Legacy Planning":
- An updated will. A properly drafted will can play a crucial part in minimizing your estate's exposure to taxes. If you should die without a legally proper will, the probate court may wind up making decisions about your estate, regardless of your best intentions. Review your will regularly.
- Owned property. If you are married and own property you intend to gift, ask your estate planning attorney to check state laws to see how they may impact your estate. There are states where property owned prior to marriage is treated as separate property belonging to just one spouse, and there are community property states in which all property acquired prior to or during marriage is deemed to be owned by both spouses. Review your property and make sure it is set up the way you want.
- Beneficiary statements. Review your beneficiary designations, and make sure they're as you want them. This includes retirement plans (401(k)s, 403(b)s, etc.), IRAs, bank accounts, and insurance policies. Remember that your named beneficiaries take preference over those named in a will, so it's important to regularly review beneficiaries, particularly after major life changes like marriage or the birth of children or grandchildren.
- Health care directive and living will. It's important to be prepared for the unexpected with your health, whether an accident, illness, or other reason. Draft a health care directive that provides guidance on the extent of the medical treatment you want to receive based on your condition.
- Power of attorney. You should give an individual the authority to make decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to do so. A "durable" power of attorney will act as your agent, making medical and/or financial decisions for you when needed.
- Digital accounts. Make certain that loved ones know how to find all required information, including passwords, to access your online accounts—your financial accounts, social media accounts and household accounts like your cable and electric.
Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney for help in creating this documentation as part of your estate plan. He or she can review your estate goals to make certain your legacy intentions are consistent with your overall financial strategy.
Reference: Sonoma County Gazette (March 1, 2016) "6 Basic Steps to Legacy Planning"