Updated: Feb 17
Nobody likes talking about death. But this is exactly why you should make an effort to create and maintain an estate plan: you simply won’t be there to settle matters when the time comes.
An estate plan puts into place the decisions you would make in the event you cannot make them.
An estate plan puts into place the decisions you would make in the event you cannot make them. It directs how your assets will be preserved, managed, and distributed after death. And, it takes into account the management of your properties and financial obligations in the event you become incapacitated while still living.
Check to see if your estate strategy needs any adjustment. Begin by answering these 9 important questions.
1. Do you have a last will and testament?
A will, short for last will and testament, is a legal document that specifies who is to inherit your assets. It also enables you to name your executor or “personal representative”. Your will provides direction for the person next in line to manage your affairs. This legal document puts you in control of who inherits your property and who would take care of your children if it were ever necessary. Without a will, state law determines these issues.
Having a will in place can make the difference between a smooth estate process and a probate nightmare for your loved ones.
Pro-tip: At Peak Wealth Planning, we recommend reviewing your will whenever you experience a major life event or every 4-5 years even if you don't think anything is different. This helps ensure your family stays protected and your final wishes are respected.
2. Do you have healthcare documents in place?
An advance healthcare directive (living will) is a legal document that spells out your wishes for health care and it allows you to select a person to make treatment decisions on your behalf. This is an important estate planning tool because it allows you to preemptively make decisions for a “future you” that cannot. It protects your loved ones from the pain and uncertainty of having to guess what treatment you would want.
3. Do you have financial documents in place?
Certain documents can outline your financial wishes. If you become unable to make decisions for yourself, these financial documents can be structured to empower a person to make decisions on your behalf. These documents may include joint ownership, a durable power of attorney, and living trust.
4. Have you filed beneficiary forms?
When you purchase life insurance or open a retirement plan, you’re asked to name a beneficiary. The beneficiary is the person you want to inherit the proceeds of the account when you die. These designations are powerful. It is imperative you understand they take precedence over instructions in a will.
Take steps now to locate any accounts –– from 401k accounts at past employers to IRAs or 401ks you contribute to regularly –– and confirm the beneficiary is up-to-date.
5. Do you have the right amount and type of life insurance?
When was the last time you assessed your life insurance coverage? Have you compared the life insurance benefit with your financial obligations? Keep in mind that several factors will affect the cost and availability of life insurance, including age, health, and the type and amount of insurance purchased. Life insurance policies have expenses, including mortality and other charges. If a whole life insurance policy with cash value is surrendered prematurely, the policyholder may pay surrender charges and have income tax implications.
Speak to your insurance broker to find out whether you are insurable before counting on a strategy involving life insurance. Your financial advisor can help you assess the right type of insurance for your needs.
6. Have you taken steps to manage your federal estate tax?
If you and your spouse have more than $24.12 million in assets (for 2022), you may want to consider taking steps to manage federal estate taxes, which will be due at the second spouse's death.
7. Have you taken steps to protect your business?
Do you have a succession plan? You should have a plan to take care of your customers if something happens to you. Do you have business loans using personal assets as collateral? If so, you should consider life insurance to cover these debts. If you own a business with others, you may also want to consider a buyout agreement.
8. Have you created a letter of instruction?
A letter of instruction is a non-legal document that outlines your wishes including guidelines for distributing your personal effects, your burial or cremation, and how you may want to be remembered whether through a religious, military, or family event. A clearly written letter will save your heirs time, effort, and expense as they administer your estate.
9. Will your heirs be able to locate your critical documents?
Make certain your family knows where to find everything you’ve prepared. Make a list of documents, including where each is stored. These documents may include:
Your last will and testament
Life insurance policies
Pension or retirement accounts
Birth and adoption certificates
Real estate deeds
Stocks, bonds and mutual funds
Information on any debts you have: credit cards, mortgages and loans
Another item helpful for your heirs is a list of bills and accounts, including contact information and account numbers for each, so your representative can settle and close these accounts.
I recommend that you speak with a qualified financial professional—one with experience in estate planning. They can refer you to a good estate planning attorney and a qualified tax professional, and from there assist you in drafting your legal documents.
When was the last time you reviewed your estate strategy? Are you comfortable with the current state of your estate planning? Do you need professional guidance to achieve your goals for the future? If you have more than $2 million saved and need help from a wealth manager, the Peak Wealth Planning team can assist.
Peak Wealth Planning specializes in helping high-net worth individuals and families plan for the future. You can meet with the Peak Wealth Planning team remotely, plus in Champaign and Chicago, Illinois, as well as in Colorado near Denver, Winter Park, and Fraser.
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About the Author
Peter Newman is a Chartered Financial Advisor (CFA) and president of Peak Wealth Planning. He works with individuals nationwide that have accumulated wealth through company stock, ESOP shares, real estate, or running a business. Peter applies his unique background to help clients achieve their specific goals and enjoy peace of mind.
Peak Wealth Planning provides concierge services to meet your wealth management needs. Services include: financial planning, investment management, esop diversification, retirement income, insurance, and estate planning advice. Peak Wealth Planning is a fee-based financial advisor based in Champaign, Illinois, and Fraser, Colorado.