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Estate planning: Where do I start?

Preserving what we own for our heirs is important for most people. That is why estate planning is not a task that should be put off. But where do we start?

Here are some tips that can help you get started:

  1. Do an inventory of what you own. Write it down in two categories: tangible and intangible. Tangible items will include homes, property, vehicles, collectibles and other personal possessions. Intangibles will include things such as bank accounts (checking and savings), stocks, bonds, insurance policies, pension plans, 401(k) plans and IRAs.
  2. Place a value on your inventoried items. If you don't have a solid value, think of how your heirs would value them. This will help when planning equitable distribution.
  3. Consider your family, heirs and friends. Do you have children who will need a guardian assigned? Do you need a trustee or executor for your will? Select who will be involved in making decisions for you. Also select who should inherit the items from your inventory list.
  4. Establish a health care directive. This may also be called a living will or an advanced care directive. It is a document that states your medical preferences and names a trusted source to make medical decisions for you in case you are incapacitated.
  5. Select someone who you can designate as a medical power of attorney and a financial power of attorney for you. You can have "limited" power of attorneys if there are certain decisions you want to set boundaries on.
  6. Review beneficiaries on all insurance policies, retirement plans or similar documents. It is a good idea to set a future appointment with yourself to do this yearly, such as your birthday or the day after New Year's Day. Life changes and so do the people around us.

Now that you have all of your documents in order, unless you have a very small estate, this may be a good time to seek legal assistance from an estate planning attorney to help draw up the necessary documents -- such as your will, trust, health care directive, powers of attorney and so on.

When your estate planning is complete, don't forget to keep documents in an accessible place not only yourself, but for those who may need them in an emergency situation.

Source: Nerd Wallet, "Estate Planning Basics: A 7-Step Checklist," Kay Bell, accessed Dec. 01, 2017

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