Everyone hopes that their death is a far-flung theoretical 'someday'—and for most of us most of the time, that's true. But that means now is the best time to begin the estate planning process: when you're not staring over the edge of something scary and stressful, and when you can have practical discussions with your loved ones in a way that isn't especially emotionally charged. If you haven't yet made any plans for your estate, here's what you need to know to get started.
1. Picking your beneficiaries, executors and witnesses.
The first step is to decide who else is going to be involved with your estate plan. Your beneficiaries are the people who will inherit from you: the ones who will receive money, property or individual gifts as laid out in your will. Your executors are the people who are in charge of your estate while the directions in your will are carried out; it's their job to fill in the paperwork, transfer the money and the property and wind your estate up according to all legal principles. Your witnesses have a much smaller job: they simply watch you sign your will, then sign a declaration saying it was you who did it and you're happy with what it says.
2. Writing a will and/or setting up a trust fund.
Everyone needs a will, no matter how much or little they own. Your will determines what should happen to your money, property, belongings, pets and children under the age of eighteen in the event of your death. You don't necessarily need a lawyer to draw up a will; templates are available for straightforward cases that will serve most people perfectly well. Trust funds are usually only necessary if your estate is quite large, and need to be set up under the advice of an estate lawyer.
3. Deciding how monetary and business decisions will be made if you can't make them for yourself.
Estate planning isn't just about what happens if you die. Should you find yourself unable to pay bills, manage bank accounts or sign legal documents as a result of incapacity or illness, someone will need to see to those things on your behalf. By granting a person you choose durable power of attorney now, you'll be able to decide in advance who that person should be.
4. Deciding how personal and medical decisions will be made if you can't make them for yourself.
If you lose the ability to make your own medical decisions, either temporarily or permanently, you'll also need someone to choose for you. Granting the ability to do this is called a medical power of attorney. It can be the same person as the durable power, but it doesn't have to be—that's up to you.
5. Ensuring all the right people know about your plans.
When estate plans fail, it's usually because the other people involved in them weren't made aware of the estate owner's wishes in advance. As part of your planning make sure you inform everyone central to your life of where the documents are, and of who you'd like to take on each role. Reach out to a firm like Neilson Stanton & Parkinson to find out more.