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With an estate plan, you can:
Provide support and financial stability for your surviving spouse, children, and grandchildren.
Preserve your wealth for later generations.
Make sure your wishes are carried out when you can no longer manage your affairs. It's important to have both a power of attorney and a living will
Support a favorite charity or cause with a gift of money, securities, or other property.
Distribute assets in a timely fashion, with a minimum of legal hassle.
Minimize taxes and expenses that can go along with transferring assets.
Provide enough cash to meet expenses and prevent the forced sale of assets.
Avoid problems for your loved ones by ensuring that the beneficiaries named on your life insurance and retirement plans are still the people you want to benefit.
Protect your family's privacy with an estate plan designed to prevent your will from becoming public record.
Set and meet expectations of your survivors so there is no confusion or misunderstanding.
So how do you begin? A good first step is to take an inventory of your assets and estimate their value. The following documents (which can be downloaded) will help you to organize this information:
Don't do it alone. The process can entail preparing a will, creating trusts, naming beneficiaries for insurance policies and retirement accounts, and selecting guardians for minor children. In addition, some families need to plan to minimize estate taxes.
Given the complexities, you'll want to work with a qualified estate planning attorney. Depending on your situation, you may also find it helpful to work with other professionals, including a financial planner or investment manager, a trust officer, and insurance agent, or an accountant. Keep in mind, though, that an attorney must be the one who drafts your estate planning documents.
To find qualified estate planning professionals, ask friends, financial and legal advisors, and colleagues for recommendations. Before hiring anyone, it's a good idea to interview candidates and check their credentials. They should provide you with a clear explanation of their fees and an estimate of how much their service will cost. Estate planning involves some of your most personal information, so it's important that you and your family are comfortable with the professional assisting you.