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Contemplating your own death may not be on the list of things you’re eager to do.
Yet for your family or other loved ones who would find themselves trying to sort out your affairs while also dealing with the emotional fallout from losing you, your having a so-called estate plan is important, experts say. And this is the case whether you are wealthy or not.
“When you get your things in order, it’s a gift you’re giving your family,” said certified financial planner Lisa Kirchenbauer, founder and president of Omega Wealth Management in Arlington, Virginia.
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In simple terms, your estate plan spells out who you want making decisions and who will inherit what you own. “Estate” simply refers to possessions and other assets.
Experts say most estate plans don’t need to be complicated. But to make sure your wishes are carried out, they do need to be done correctly — which may make it worth consulting with a local attorney who specializes in estate planning.
Here are five key things to know if you start thinking about how you’d craft an estate plan.
1. A will may not cover all your bases
“If your ex-spouse is listed on the beneficiary designation, your ex-spouse will get the money regardless of what your will says,” said CFP Stephen Maggard, an advisor with Abacus Planning Group in Columbia, South Carolina.
Be aware that many 401(k) plans require your current spouse to be the beneficiary unless they legally agree otherwise.
Regular bank accounts, too, can have beneficiaries listed on a payable-on-death form, which your bank can supply. Same goes for brokerage accounts.
If your ex-spouse is listed on the beneficiary designation, your ex-spouse will get the money regardless of what your will says.
Advisor with Abacus Planning Group
If no beneficiary is listed on these various accounts or the named person has already died (and there is no contingent beneficiary listed), the assets automatically go into probate.
That’s the process by which all of your debt is paid off and the remaining assets that are subject to probate — which includes those that pass through the will — are distributed to heirs. This can last several months to a year or more, depending on state laws and the complexity of your estate.
2. You’ll need to carefully pick your will’s…
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