If you’re smart, you’ll plan for the end of your life while you’re young. Did you know that more than half of all Americans don’t have a will? It’s not something anyone likes to think about, but death could be around any corner. Getting your assets in order is the best thing you can do to protect your family in the event of your death.
If you haven’t thought about preparing for the end of your life, you’re not alone. “Time and again, hospice professionals see families in the hallway of the emergency room or ICU trying to figure out what Mom or Dad might have wanted, and that’s a very tough time to think these things through,” says Jon Radulovic, vice president of communications for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO). “People often put more thought into preparing for the family vacation—the transportation, the timing, the meals—than planning for the end-of-life experience we’ll all have.”
Do the smart thing and plan ahead.
- Learn More About It
If you haven’t started estate planning yet, chances are you don’t know much about it. Thankfully, gaining education on this subject is not difficult, even if you don’t have a lot of time or money.
“It is much better to become educated about the basics of estate planning on your own time than to pay an attorney or other professional to educate you,” recommends an article from EstatePlanning.com “Save your money for questions about your specific situation. There is good general information readily available online and in books written specifically for consumers…Attorneys often provide seminars on estate planning; these are also an excellent way to start your education and to meet local attorneys.”
- Find an Estate Planning Attorney in Your State
Although you can plan a will and organize your estate on your own, your assets and family will be much better protected if you use an attorney. The law can be very complex, and one wrong word or missing signature can change the outcome of your will.
State laws vary when it comes to estate planning. If you’re working on estate planning in Arizona, you need an estate planning team here. Even going one state over for help will be too far to properly protect your family and assets.
- Take Care of Your Family
Everyone will have different priorities, but most prioritize taking care of their families. If you still have kids at home, start by defining who will be the guardian if both parents pass away. This is the best way to ensure they’re raised and cared for by people you trust.
Next, define who will inherit what after your passing. This might seem like something only rich people do, but it’s actually for everyone. Your house, car, business, and any other assets must be metered out according to your exact specifications.
If you don’t decide on this on your own, the state will define ownership of your things for you. “Dying without a will is known as dying intestate,” explains Stan Murray of Investopedia. “If this were to happen in the U.S., intestate succession laws would come into play, and your relatives would have to go through probate to claim ownership of assets, perhaps even fight over assets. The state would determine how your property passes to your heirs. If no heirs fit the state’s formula, your assets may become property of the state.”
- Assign Your Executor and/or Trustee
If you have a will, you’ll need an executor to carry out the terms. If you have a trust, a trustee will be given powers of administration over the funds. They must be people you trust because a lot of your legacy depends on how they handle your assets when you’re gone.
It’s common practice to name your spouse or eldest child to be the executor, but that might not be wise based on your circumstances. Choose someone who will honor your wishes to the best of their abilities.
- Update as You Go
Unfortunately, estate planning isn’t something that doesn’t require updating. It’s designed to protect your assets during your present situation, so you’ll want to review the document every six months or so.
Each time you review it, consider things like changes in income, additional assets, new family members, a falling out or recent death of a family member, and other things that might impact the way your assets are distributed. Meeting with your attorney regularly is the best way to make sure your family is taken care of after your death.