An estate plan is a key component of your comprehensive financial plan. Although most understand that they should have one in place, not everyone knows how approach this mission. Here are four easy-to-implement steps to create and maintain an estate plan that can help provide you and your heirs with greater financial confidence:
- Take stock. You need to know exactly what you’ve got before you can make a plan for what to do with it. An inventory of your estate—everything you own and owe—will help you make smarter decisions about your assets and make things easier and less costly for those people who will one day be tasked with handling your affairs.
To start, gather and document the following information:
- The value of your home and any other real estate, cars, jewelry and other personal property
- Recent bank, brokerage and retirement account statements
- All insurance policies, their cash values and death benefits
- All liabilities—including mortgages, lines of credit and other debt
- Make a plan. Estate settlement rules vary from state to state and can get complex, so it’s best to work with an experienced estate planning attorney when making your plan. Even if you choose to design your own plan, you’ll want to have a professional review done to ensure that it’s set up accurately.
- Put your plan into action. An estate planning attorney should craft an estate plan that reflects your wishes and meets state and federal laws. This plan will likely consist of a will that directs how your assets will be distributed at death as well as medical and financial powers of attorney documents that spell out who will make financial and health care decisions if you can’t. It also may include trust documents to manage the distribution of certain types of assets.
- Update your plan regularly. Estate planning is not a “set it and forget it” one-time event. You’ll want to review your plan regularly to ensure that it continues to reflect your wishes—especially in the wake of any new major developments that occur in your life, such as significant investments like purchasing a home, and family situations like births, deaths, marriages and divorces.
Justin M. Cole CFP® is an Independent Branch Leader at Charles Schwab with almost 20 years of experience helping clients achieve their financial goals. Some content provided here has been compiled from previously published articles authored by various parties at Schwab. Charles Schwab & Co., Inc., Member SIPC.
Information presented is for general informational purposes only and is not intended as personalized advice. Employees of Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. are not estate planning attorneys and cannot offer tax or legal advice, or create and prepare legal documents associated with such plans. Where such advice is necessary or appropriate, please consult a qualified legal or tax advisor.