Is there a right time to start estate planning? Well, yes and no. We have all had moments where we see an old picture and think – where has time gone? It’s easy for months and years to blend into each other, but it’s important to remember that even if we haven’t stopped to plan for what comes next, it’s still coming anyway. Estate planning is a way to take proactive control over our decisions before something happens and decides for us.

Estate planning is an important part of smart financial planning. Everyone should consider having an estate plan. Estate planning allows you to establish a specific set of legal documents that will dictate how your medical care will be handled if you become incapable of making decisions for yourself, how your loved ones will be taken care of in the event of your passing, and how your assets will be transferred. An estate plan may contain various types of trusts that can make it as uncomplicated as possible for your heirs to receive your assets according to your wishes with minimum tax impacts and without interference from probate court.  In short, estate planning should be a priority so that you can have peace of mind when it comes to your family’s financial future.


What should be included in my estate planning documents?

Not many people want to sit down and think about end-of-life medical care or how they can financially provide for their loved ones after they’re gone, but there are professionals who can help you make decisions that will be in your best interest. A financial advisor or certified estate planner can review your specific family dynamics and financial resources and explain the different estate planning documents that would best suit your needs. An estate plan may include the following:

  • Last Will and Testament – This document allows you to provide specific instructions regarding how you’d like your assets distributed. If applicable, it is also where you name guardians for minor children.
  • A Trust or trusts – This is a tool that facilitates the transfer of assets according to your wishes, while potentially minimizing tax implications and avoiding probate.
  • Financial Power of Attorney – This document lets you designate someone to act on your behalf in financial matters.
  • Healthcare Proxy – This may also be referred to as a Durable Medical Power of Attorney. This legal document tells medical providers who can make medical decisions on your behalf if you are not competent.
  • Living Will – This legally binding document allows you to express your wishes regarding your medical care in the event you cannot speak for yourself. You can address things such as heroic measures, pain management and organ donation.
  • Beneficiary designations – Those who you choose to inherit your assets are your beneficiaries. These designations may be on assets like life insurance policies and retirement accounts. They should be kept up to date to reflect your wishes.
  • Letter of Last instruction – This is not a legally binding document. However, this statement allows you to offer clarification or more personalized instructions about your last wishes, such as your cremation or burial preferences.


Do I need to update my estate planning documents once they are created?

When you create an estate plan, you are working with your life circumstances as they are at that time. However, as life goes on, you will have changes that should be accommodated in your estate planning documents. You should make it a point to review them every three to five years to ensure that they still reflect your wishes. There are also many milestones that might trigger a need to revisit your original estate planning documents. Here are some:

  • You open a new investment account. Make sure that you decide who will receive the funds in your account in the event of your death. The recipient can be named in your will or named as beneficiary designation with the financial institution.
  • You get married. You and your spouse may be combining assets as you build a life together. What happens in the event of your death? How will the surviving spouse manage financially and what will happen to your assets? Consider if life insurance policies and trusts should be established to provide for the surviving spouse.
  • You get divorced. It is crucial to update any previous insurance documents, beneficiary designations, wills, or trusts that may have been written while you were married to reflect your current wishes. If not changed, these estate planning documents could cause major problems in the future for your family.
  • You buy a house or other real estate. Even if you have a will stating who you want to leave your home to, you must ensure it is titled correctly. Asset titling supersedes what is written in your legal documents. Reviewing the titling with your financial advisor will help ensure all are in line with your wishes.
  • You’re having a baby. There are so many things to think about in caring for a child. You are responsible for their whole world. Not only do you need to safely raise them and provide for their health and education, but you also want to do everything you can to set them up with a strong foundation for their future. Life insurance policies, wills, trusts, and other documents in your estate plan must be reviewed and may need updating each time you have a child so that you can make guardianship decisions about who will take care of them in your absence, and how they will be financially protected in the event of your passing.
  • You’ve inherited money or come into a sudden financial windfall. While your odds of winning the lottery may be slim but possible, it might be more likely that you’ve been named as a beneficiary in a family member’s will or trust and have inherited money or assets. Anytime you have experienced an influx of sudden money, you should revisit your own estate plan and make any updates to your estate planning documents that may be relevant to your new financial situation, to ensure your new wealth is inherited as you desire.
  • Your child gets married. When our families grow it is an exciting time as well as a good time to review estate documents. The unfortunate reality is that 50% of first marriages end in divorce. You may want to discuss a prenuptial agreement or specific language in your will and trust to ensure that assets are distributed according to your wishes.
  • You’re becoming a grandparent for the first time, or the second, or the third… When your children have children, or your family grows in other ways, it’s an excellent time to review your estate plan and make any necessary updates to include new family members in trusts or your will.
  • A loved one has special needs. If one of your beneficiaries has special needs, it is crucial that you review your estate plan to ensure that any inheritance is carefully drafted for them. A trust may be needed to best serve in the future.


How do I find a professional who can help with estate planning near me?

The easiest way to create an estate plan is to work with someone who has the experience to objectively evaluate your needs and the expertise to educate and guide you through informed decisions. Your financial advisor is an ideal professional to work with. We can help you establish a long-term plan so that you can meet your financial goals while making sure that you provide for your loved ones.  The best estate planning will take into account all the factors that might affect your heirs designed to make any transfer of assets as seamless as possible.


If you haven’t already thought about estate planning, that’s okay!  You can do it now.

Although you can begin drafting estate planning documents the moment you become eighteen, many people don’t turn their attention to this task until much later. We always want to believe that we have more time. We also must remember that as Baby Boomers continue to age into their golden years, many may not even be aware of the ways in which estate planning can help ensure that their wishes are respected. Or they may believe that the outdated will they wrote years ago that has been sitting in a safe deposit box is enough. Adult children may want to have a conversation with their parents to gently offer assistance in finding financial advisors and estate planners who can help.  Ideally, you should begin this process as early as possible, but even if you have put it off, you should not let that deter you from beginning to plan today.  Whether you are helping your parents through the process or planning for yourself one of the best things you can do for your family’s future is to establish a comprehensive estate plan and keep it updated. Please contact us if you would like more information.