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Estate Planning: Part 1

This is a special contribution written for American Retirement Education by attorney Michael Roberts*. This article is the first in a series of articles that will focus on Estate Planning.

As the famous saying goes, “Nothing is certain, except death and taxes.” And while millions of Americans spend a great deal of time and money trying to figure out their taxes, less spend the time to plan for issues that come up in the event of their death. Trust me, I can definitely understand why… it is extremely unpleasant to think about your own mortality, or that of your loved ones.

Nevertheless, the undisputable fact remains that you will die, and you need to start thinking about it sooner rather than later. In fact, now might be the perfect time to begin forming your estate plan. With everything going on in the world, it becomes more relevant now, than ever, to consider what might happen in the event of death or incapacitation. I find that it helps to understand that you are not doing this for yourself, you are doing this for your family, and loved ones, so that they are not forced to make difficult decisions at a time they may be scared or grieving.

What Is Estate Planning?
Estate planning is the term given to the process people go through to prepare for the legal, financial, and personal realities of their death and incapacitation. In its simplest terms, an estate plan is the set of legal documents that allows you to leave instructions regarding your care if you can’t speak for yourself and the distribution of your assets after you die.

However, estate planning is not a single topic, but rather a collection of topics that involves the matters surrounding one’s death and incapacity. Depending on each individual’s circumstances and preferences, the plan can range from simple to quite complex.

Many people associate the term “estate” with wealth; however, an estate plan is not just for the rich. Nor is it just for the old. Whether you think you do or not, you have an estate. Your estate is made up of everything you own – your car, home, bank accounts, investments, life insurance, furniture and personal possessions. Regardless of how large or small, everyone has an estate and you can’t take it with them when you go.

Furthermore, it’s not just about passing on wealth and personal possessions. Estate planning also encompasses those important decisions regarding your health, guardianship of minor or disabled children, and even your burial wishes.

Estate planning is a necessary part of life
Irrespective of your current age or circumstances, creating an estate plan is an essential task for every adult – and understanding what an estate plan entails, and what specific kinds of issues your plan might address, is the first step.

In the coming months, in this section, I will be addressing the specific issues involved in the Estate Planning process, and I will attempt to do so in the simplest and most efficient way possible. Estate Planning can be a complex issue, but it is very important that the basics are understood by everyone.

Next month, I will continue my series with what I consider the first part of the Estate Plan: Preparation for Incapacity (or disability). Many people believe that an estate plan only deals with the distribution of property after one passes but, while that is definitely an important part, there is so much more. Incapacitation creates several of the same problems that death can, in terms of decision making and therefore, plans must be established.

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*Michael Roberts is an attorney licensed in the State of Iowa since 2004. All information provided in this section is for educational purposes only, and should not be deemed legal advice. mike.roberts@americanretirementsystems.com