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Estate planning might seem like something only the very wealthy need to worry about, but proper estate planning is important for everybody. An estate plan is an important part of planning for the future and planning for how your assets will be distributed when you pass. You don’t have to meet any type of monetary threshold or benchmark to need an estate plan. If you own anything, an estate plan can be important for you.

Let’s talk about what an estate plan really is, what it does, and how you can make one.

What Is an Estate Plan?

An estate plan is usually made of several different documents telling your descendants and the executors of your estate how your property/assets should be dealt with after your passing. Your estate plan includes what property you want to pass down and who you want to pass it to.

An estate plan also names the person or people who will take care of your property and make sure your estate plan is followed in your absence.

What Does an Estate Plan Do?

There are a few basic things your estate plan should cover, no matter who you are or what assets you own.

  1. Identify your assets and determine how they are passed down.
  2. Name an executor to oversee your estate.
  3. Name a financial power of attorney to oversee your finances if you are unable.
  4. Name your children’s guardians if they are underage.

Your estate plan can also include other important documents, like your Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney. Even though those documents are about you personally and not about your property, they’re still considered a part of estate planning.

You can also use your estate plan to set up a trust to help reduce or eliminate estate taxes for your descendants.

Why You Need an Estate Plan

When you consider all of what an estate plan does, it’s easy to see why everyone should have one.

Estate plans basically offer you more control over your resources and how they are dealt with. A clear estate plan can help avoid family conflict and make your wishes clear, even if you can’t. A complete estate plan, including medical and financial power of attorney and a clear living will, can also make it easier on your loved ones. Having clear decisions and directions written down in a formal document, means your loved ones don’t have to try and figure out what you would have wanted.

A good estate plan also protects your assets and makes sure you’re able to pass down the assets you want to. Estate planning can sometimes help you avoid unnecessary taxes and helps makes sure your beneficiaries are clearly named. 

How To Get an Estate Plan

Creating an estate plan doesn’t have to be difficult, but it is important to make it as complete as possible, and to revisit it occasionally to keep it up to date.

You have the option of creating your own estate plan by constructing each of the documents on your own. Free templates are available on-line to help you get started, but you’ll also need to sign and prepare copies of your estate plan to make sure it isn’t lost. In some states or counties, you may also need to file your estate plan with the state to make it legally binding.  Many people feel more comfortable in having an estate planning specialist prepare these critical documents.

If you want to be sure you’ve covered everything or have a variety of assets you need to control, it’s a good idea to contact a professional to help you create your estate plan. We offer a full range of financial planning services which can complement your estate plan and keep it as comprehensive and protective as possible.

Raymond James and its advisors do not offer tax or legal advice. You should discuss any tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional. Opinions expressed in the attached article are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Raymond James. All opinions are as of this date and are subject to change without notice.