Planning for your death can be uncomfortable, but it’s something you should really do, especially if you have children. You may think that estate planning concerns are just elderly financial planning questions, but imagine what would happen if you passed away without a plan. No one would know how to sort out your affairs. Your assets would pass through probate. Your loved ones – or worse, the courts – would decide what happens to your children. It can be a long, lengthy process, and can add unnecessary stress on your family as they grieve your passing.
Regardless of your age, putting a plan in place now can help protect your dependents and give your family peace of mind.
Here are 10 critical steps you can take today to protect your dependents if you pass away.
1. Buy Life Insurance
Most people buy their first life insurance policy after they have a child or get married, but they don’t update the coverage as their family grows.
There’s a good chance you already have life insurance, but do you have enough? According to a recent study, 40 percent of people are under-insured.
Make sure you talk with a financial advisor about insurance plans. Beware of insurance agents who simply want to sell you something for commission and may prey on your emotions.
2. Create a Will
According to AARP, 60 percent of Americans lack a will or estate planning documents. But without these documents, you don’t have a final say in what happens to your children. It’s left up to the courts to decide. A simple way to remain in control after you’re gone is through a will.
Some dependent-related items to state in your will include:
- Guardianship – Even if you’re married, it’s best to appoint a guardian in the event you and your spouse pass away at the same time. You’ll also need to appoint a back-up guardian in case your first choice is not able to care for your children.
- Education – What type of education do you want your children to have? Do you want them to continue homeschooling or private school? Do you want part of your estate to cover college tuition?
- Special Needs – If you have a dependent with special needs, be sure to establish a Special Needs Trust. This type of trust sets aside money for their day-to-day care and protects their government benefits. Your will can list out any special care they’ll need after you’re gone.
- Inheritance – What assets do you want your dependents to have? How do you want to distribute their inheritance?
Detail all of this (and more) in your will, so it’s publicly known how you want things to play out after your death.
3. Write a Letter of Intent
A letter of intent goes to the executor of your estate. It isn’t legally binding like a will, but it does help your loved ones cope with your passing.
A letter of intent is a bit more personal, and often includes items like:
- Your funeral arrangements – What do you want your funeral to look like? You can even include the type of food you want served and the music you want played.
- The location of your legal documents – State where you keep your personal and financial documents. This list may include your will, birth certificate, titles, deeds, financial account information and more.
- Any last words – A letter of intent preserves your voice and can help your family move on, so tell them anything you want them to hear.
4. Establish a Revocable Living Trust
There are several different types of trusts, but a revocable living trust can help you:
- Avoid the probate process
- Change your trust document while you’re alive
- Keep your assets private
- Prevent family members from challenging your estate
- Use provisions to cut your tax burden
Once you’ve established the trust, begin moving your investments, bank accounts and real estate into it.
5. Appoint a Trustee or Custodian
Besides a guardian, you’ll also need to name a custodian or trustee. This person manages your children’s money until they’re old enough to manage it themselves.
The trustee or custodian doesn’t have to be the same person as the guardian. For example, the person best capable of raising your children may not be good at managing money. In this case, you may want to appoint someone else to be the trustee or custodian.
If you do appoint two separate people, make sure they’re willing to work with each other, because they’ll most likely have to do so over the course of your child’s life.
6. Name Beneficiaries
Make sure you’ve named primary and secondary beneficiaries for your accounts. You may think secondary beneficiaries aren’t necessary, but they are. If your spouse is the primary beneficiary, for example, and you both pass away at the same time, your assets would have to pass through probate before going to your loved ones unless you’ve named a secondary beneficiary. These are common elderly financial planning questions but are also important steps regardless of your age.
You can list your trust as the beneficiary of your assets, but some other common types include:
- Non-family member
You may need to establish a Transfer On Death (TOD) designation for your certificates of deposits, bank accounts and brokerage accounts. This designation states who becomes the owner of the account upon the primary account holder’s death.
7. Draft a List of Financial Accounts
Create one document that lists all your financial accounts and account numbers. Tell your loved ones where to find this document (or share a copy with them) in case they ever need it. Some important items to list in this document include:
- Financial information – Bank accounts, investment accounts, mortgage information, insurance, credit cards and debts
- Income information – Regular income, side hustles, child support and rental income
- Monthly expenses – Utilities, insurance premiums, mortgages and loans
8. Make Your Wishes Known
After you’ve created a will, established a trust and made a list of your financial documents, what do you do with them? There are actually several options:
- Keep them in a fireproof, waterproof safe at your house.
- Keep them with your estate attorney or financial advisor.
- Keep them password protected online.
- Keep them in a safety deposit box at a bank.
Whichever you choose to do, make sure your loved ones, attorney and financial advisor know where you’re keeping the documents.
9. Update Your Estate Plan
You should review your estate plan once a year or when any big life events happen, such as:
- Getting married or divorced
- Having a child
- Experiencing a death in the family
- Moving out of state
10. Talk With a Professional
No matter where you are in the estate planning process, consider bringing a financial advisor on board. A financial advisor can be a great addition to your estate planning team because an advisor can bring a holistic view to protecting your family.
Do you want to make sure your dependents have enough money to go to college? Do you want to leave an inheritance to a niece who’s always been like a daughter to you? Do you have an adult child who may always need the financial guidance of a trustee? A financial advisor can help you address these concerns in your estate plan.
At PAX Financial Group, we take your personal situation into account and then help you create an estate plan that reflects your wishes. We can also work in tandem with your estate planning attorney to help ensure you have a plan that’s financially sound.
To learn more about our services, contact us today.
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