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Estate Planning

Definition

Estate planning is the accumulation, preservation and distribution of assets in life and at death.

©Maxwell Financial Services, Inc. February 2013

Estate planning is a lifetime process. Personal estates are constantly evolving, as are family and/or charitable relationships. As a result, any individual over the age of 18 who owns any property should have the basic estate planning documents below. Without these documents, complications may arise if there is a need to address estate and/or serious health issues.

Documents

At a minimum, everyone needs the following documents:

The will is a document that allows for the distribution of personal assets at death. Without a will, the state will decide who will receive these assets, and it may not be the people or charities the deceased would have designated. The will is also the document in which parent(s) name the guardian for their minor children.

A Power of Attorney gives someone else authority to make financial decisions for someone else who might be temporarily or permanently incapacitated and unable to make one’s own decisions. (The name of this document may vary, depending on the restrictions contained within the document.)

A Health Power of Attorney gives someone else authority to make short-term or long-term medical decisions for someone who might be temporarily or permanently incapacitated and unable to make one’s own decisions.

An individual’s Directive to Physicians (or Living Will) gives direction to medical personnel regarding the individual’s end-of-life decisions, such as discontinuing treatment if the individual has a terminal condition. Sometimes, these last two documents are combined into one document.

Registration of Assets

All assets are registered in the owners’ name(s). Keep names consistent on investments, real estate, insurance policies and all other assets. Having one name on one asset and a variation of that name on another might slow down any estate-related activity.

Registration of assets should be consistent with current estate planning documents.

Beneficiaries

Assets that pass outside of a will have beneficiary designations. It is important to keep beneficiary designations current and consistent with estate planning documents. Beneficiary designations generally trump instructions in the will.