Money Advice

Stop putting it off! 5 reasons to get an estate plan in place

Posted by The Simply Money Advisors Team on Jan 23, 2019 8:59:42 AM

We know you don’t want to deal with it.

But you need to get it done.

Then you can put it behind you and never think about it again. 

Yet more than 50% of people with children don’t have a simple will. [1] This is inviting tragedy that never has to happen. Because, truth be told? It’s not that hard.

And yes, even though you might not be living the lifestyles of the rich and famous, you do have assets that are worth protecting: bank accounts, retirement accounts, insurance policies, vehicles, your home, even jewelry.

So, if you haven’t done so already, you need to start the process of creating an estate plan (or at least a simple will), because not doing so:

  • Hurts those you love
  • Diminishes what you’ve accomplished
  • Leaves you at the mercy of outside forces

Here’s what leaving things to chance (or the government) does, and why you need to both do it right, and right now.

Reason #1: Because Probate Stinks

A living trust (as part of an estate plan) and updating your retirement account beneficiaries (401(k)) are two great ways to avoid probate.

But what if you “only” have a will? Then it almost automatically goes to probate.

Probate takes anywhere from six months to several years (if there are disputes or debts) to complete. So, while probate, the official “proving” of the will, isn’t usually as horrifying as its reputation, it can be time consuming and expensive. Plus, it could subject your last will and testament to challenges from unpleasant people.

Still, probate with even a simple will is vastly superior to probate without one. That’s because when you die without a will, strange or unwanted things happen like:

  • The children fight over your money
  • Your partner gets everything
  • Your partner gets nothing
  • If you are single and have small children, the state manages the money
  • Your heirs don’t know where you hid the Rembrandt

Reason #2: To Pay the Smallest Amount of Taxes

Paying more than you have to in taxes is never fun, but it can be especially demoralizing when it comes to your estate because you’ve probably already paid taxes on that income.

Besides any federal laws, 12 states have an estate tax, and six have an inheritance tax. (Maryland has both!) [2]

The first bit of good news is that you may have heard that many of these states are considering raising the tax exclusion or even discontinuing estate-related taxes altogether.

The second bit of good news is that there are ways married couples can eliminate or reduce the tax burden by setting up trusts inside their wills.

Reason #3: To Protect Your Kids

A well-conceived and legally-recorded estate plan is especially good for protecting young people who may not be mature enough to handle the sudden influx of money.

Simply, you can control precisely when they’ll get the inheritance, how much, and even set up milestones to keep them off the trust-fund-dependent path. (For instance, they get X amount if they finish college.)

If your beneficiary is an adult child with a spouse or partner who has a lot of debt, or who you think might be prone to spend, squander or take the money in a divorce, a well-devised estate plan can protect your chosen adult beneficiary, as well.

Reason #4: To Insulate Your Money

In our litigious world, risk management is a big part of estate planning. Anyone can get sued, and for just about any reason.

If you have assets to protect, then you need a plan in place that protects them. Because remember, once you get sued, it’s too late to build a wall around your money.

The same kinds of trusts that protect your assets from some taxation (AB and ABC Trusts) can also keep your assets secure for your spouse to inherit, while lifetime trusts can be used to protect assets for other types of beneficiaries.  

Reason #5: In Case You Suffer a Loss of Capacity

No one wants to consider this, but those who do (and also prepare) are doing what’s best for everyone.

An estate plan with a named power of attorney means you decide who manages your affairs (and not the court). It’s simply better to have a plan and not need it than to need it and not have it.

The Simply Money Point

At a glance, creating an estate plan is one of the least-glamorous of all financial topics. But it’s worth your time. And here’s one more suggestion: always add a beneficiary to any account when available. A named, written beneficiary automatically avoids probate since beneficiaries supersede what’s in a will.

Want more information? There’s a short and very easy-to-digest section on estate planning in our 7 Personal Decision Points Guide

 

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/kateashford/2016/06/30/no-will/#6aa876082f20

[2] https://taxfoundation.org/state-estate-tax-inheritance-tax-2018/

[3] https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/california-probate-an

Topics: Financial Planning

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