(ARA) – Setting up an estate plan is a good investment for the future. But you can also be a careful steward of your financial assets now, with careful and organized planning as you go through the estate planning process. Furthermore, the third week in October (Oct. 15-21) is National Estate Planning Awareness Week and the perfect time to put your estate planning house in order.
Estate planning is an important component of your overall financial plan, regardless of your age, income or size of your estate. If you own property and have heirs, you need to think about estate planning. To do the job well, you'll need the help of a team of professional accredited estate planners such as a certified public accountant, a lawyer, insurance professionals and financial planners, and trust officers.
Professional fees can add up if you don't manage time well, so it's important to prepare for every meeting with your estate planning team members. It's a great time to think about how you can maximize the value of the time you spend with your estate planning team.
The NAEPC offers this advice on how to have productive working relationships with your planners:
* Before meeting with a professional, gather all your personal and financial information, make lists of your current financial advisers, assets and liabilities, collect financial documents such as retirement plans, life insurance policies, property deeds, partnership and business agreements and your income tax returns for the past two years.
* Write out your own personal goals, concerns and ideas. Identify people whom you would like to have inherit your property when you die, and specify what you would like to leave each. Make note of any special needs or situations, such as a dependent child or a spouse whose disability will prevent him or her from working. Identify people you would like to name as guardian for minor children, as well as an executor for your will.
* Seek out the right professionals. You'll find any number of people who profess to be estate planners, but NAEPC designees complete rigorous educational requirements for estate planning and adhere to a strict code of ethics. To find an accredited estate planner, visit the association's website, www.estateplanninganswers.org.
* Bring your notes and all the information you've gathered with you to your meeting. Being prepared can save you hours of billable time. Discuss your overall goals and find out how each professional can help you meet them. Ask for a list of the specific documents he or she will prepare for you.
* Realize that estate planning is an ongoing process. You should update your estate plan every few years or any time you experience a major life change, such as the birth of a child, marriage, divorce or death of a spouse or parent.
* Finally, once you've prepared for your loved ones' financial future, don't forget to take care of their emotional well-being. Estate plan documents are dry and technical, and they won't communicate your emotions to those you leave behind. Consider writing a letter to your spouse and family expressing your final thoughts and feelings. Keep the letter with key financial paperwork and make sure your loved ones know where to locate these items.
To learn more about estate planning, visit the NAEPC Education Foundation's public awareness website www.EstatePlanningAnswers.org.