Many of us will remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard Kobe Bryant and eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, died when the helicopter they were in crashed in Calabasas, California.
Life is fragile and when a celebrity or someone close to us dies, we are reminded of that. With Bryant gone at 41-years old, it’s also a reminder that death does not discriminate when it comes to age, making proper estate planning an important financial to-do for all of us, no matter how old we are.
Estate planning involves making a plan for the transfer of your property upon your death or incapacity. Your estate is all of the property you own, which can include cash, jewelry, cars, houses, clothes, land, retirement, investments and savings accounts. The goals of estate planning are to make sure most of your estate is transferred to your beneficiaries, you pay minimal taxes on the estate, and children are assigned guardianship.
This process should begin when you’re at least 18 years old, of sound mind, and as free as possible from emotional stress. This kind of planning should not happen when you’re on your sickbed, or at an age when your mental faculties are in a state of decline.
If you are new to estate planning, please take the necessary steps to ensure you start the process:
Draft a will. In general terms, a will is a legal document that articulates the distribution of your property and other assets upon death and can appoint guardians for minor children. Without such a document, the state in which you reside will be able to decide how to distribute your assets to your beneficiaries according to its laws. If you already have a will, make sure it’s updated to reflect an accurate listing of assets and beneficiaries that may be changed with a divorce, liquidation of property, or the birth of a new child.
Get covered. Life insurance is one of the first measures you can take to protect and provide for those that matter to you the most when you’re gone. Life insurance pays out a sum of money either upon your death or after a set period. You may have a life insurance policy as an employee benefit. This is a good start; however, workplace life insurance coverage isn’t portable which means it doesn’t follow you when you switch jobs. This can lead to gaps in coverage at times when you may need it most.
Make sure you speak to a life insurance agent or conduct an online search to compare types and terms of insurance to educate yourself so you can pick a policy that makes sense for you and your family’s needs.
Create a team. Estate planning is not a solo venture. You will need legal and financial professionals to help you create a comprehensive estate plan. Be sure to include these major players:
1. A financial advisor manages your estate’s finances—making recommendations and funding investment, retirement and trust accounts. A solid financial advisor also ensures that all of your beneficiaries and secondary beneficiaries are up-to-date will work with other members of your team to ensure there is coherence across legal paperwork and financial statements.
2. An estate planning attorney guides in choosing the best options for maintaining your estate after death or in the event of incapacity. In addition to preparing a will, this professional can prepare a living trust spells out exactly what your desires are with regard to your assets, your dependents, and your heirs while you’re still alive. This type of counsel can also draw up your power of attorney for your health care, verify property titles, and create legal document that ensures a succession plan for your business.
3. A tax professional who will support the personal representative or executor of an estate with closing responsibilities setting up an estate account, tax filings and paying the final distributions to beneficiaries.
The biggest key to estate planning is to get (and stay) organized. Be sure you know the location and passwords (if applicable) of all your important legal and financial documents. It’s also important to communicate the location of these files to trusted family members and to your designated estate team.