If you are like many other American families, the current upheaval in Washington regarding the fiscal cliff (and the estate and gift taxes) doesn't particularly interest you. I know, you don't regard yourself as one of "the rich" targeted by the current administration for tax hikes.
However, while the discussions in Washington generally only affect the extremely wealthy, don't be fooled. You still need an estate plan for yourself and your loved ones, even if your total estate does not exceed $1 million. [Sidebar: If the estate tax exemption plummets from the "fiscal cliff," then we will be looking at tax rates starting at 50% on estates exceeding $1 million.]
No matter your net worth, it's important to have, at the bare minimum, a basic estate plan. Such a plan ensures that your family and financial goals are met after you die and may include components such as a Will, a Durable Power of Attorney, a Living Will or Medical Power of Attorney, and possibly even a Trust.
So, now that you know you need some sort of estate planning, you may be wondering where to begin. A good place to start is taking inventory of your assets. Your assets include your investments, retirement savings, insurance policies, and real estate or business interests.
Then ask yourself three questions: Whom do you want to inherit your assets? Whom do you want handling your financial affairs if you're ever incapacitated? Whom do you want making medical decisions for you if you become unable to make them for yourself?
Now, be sure to consult with your estate planning attorney to ensure your estate plan is properly drafted and executed. Preparing your own estate plan is not a safe DIY project, especially when the protection of all that you have and everyone you love is at stake.
For some additional background reading, visit our website for helpful articles in our archive of newsletter articles and for some helpful tools to download for free.
Basic Estate Planning, Assets