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Fundamentals of an Estate Plan

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Fundamentals of an Estate Plan

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In life, we must prepare for what we often do not want to consider—sickness, disability or our own death. Part of this preparation includes having a good estate plan in place. Here are some questions to consider:

Do you have a will? A will enables you to specify who you want to inherit your property and other assets. A will also enables you to name a guardian for your minor children.

Are your beneficiaries up to date? When is the last time you checked to see who you named as your beneficiary on your life insurance policy, retirement accounts or annuities? It is a good idea to review these frequently, especially if your life situation changes. In some cases, naming a beneficiary for bank accounts and retirement plans makes these accounts “payable on death” to your beneficiaries.

Do you have the right amount and type of life insurance? When was the last time you assessed your life insurance coverage? Have you compared the life insurance benefit with your financial obligations?

Do you have financial and healthcare documents in place if you become unable to make financial or medical decisions for yourself? These documents may include a living will, a durable power of attorney, a durable power of attorney for healthcare and a living trust. Healthcare documents spell out your wishes for health care and certain financial documents can outline your financial wishes if you are unable to make financial or medical decisions for yourself. These documents authorize others to make decisions on your behalf if that should prove necessary.

Have you taken steps to protect your business? Do you have a succession plan? If you own a business with others, you may also want to consider a buyout agreement.

Have you created a Letter of Last Instruction? A letter of last instruction is a non-legal document that outlines your wishes. It may save your heirs time, effort and expenses as they administer your estate. It can provide guidance and information such as the location of important financial documents and a list of contact information for people who should be notified in the event of your death.

In this letter, you can outline your choices as to funeral arrangements (burial or cremation wishes), name who should conduct the actual funeral service and list the location of your cemetery plot deed if you have one. You may even wish to specify which hymns or speakers you would like included in your memorial service. Although a letter of last instructions is not legally binding, your heirs will probably be glad to know how you would like to be remembered. A well-written Letter of Last Instruction can help ensure that your last wishes are carried out without omitting important details. This letter also lessens the emotional stress for those involved.

Will your heirs be able to locate your critical documents? Your heirs may need access to the specific documents you have created to manage your estate. These documents may include:

• Your will
• Trust documents
• Life insurance policies
• Deeds to any real estate, and certificates for stocks, bonds, annuities
• Information on your financial accounts and safe deposit boxes
• Information on your retirement plans
• Information on your debts: credit cards, mortgages and loans.

If you have been meaning to get around to addressing some part of your financial future, maybe it is time to develop a strategy. (Also see Proverbs 13:22 and 1 Timothy 5:8.) Do not let procrastination keep you from pursuing your financial goals, establishing a complete estate plan or leaving family members uncertain of your desires.

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