Estate planning in its simplest terms is passing your assets to your heirs as quickly and tax-free as possible. Assets can be transferred via wills, ownership, by contract (beneficiary arrangements), and trusts. The best way to ensure that you have everything covered is to meet with an attorney.

Regardless of the complexity of your financial situation, your attorney will most likely start you with a basic estate plan. The basic estate plan typically includes the drafting of your will, powers of attorney for health care and finances, as well as living wills.

Wills – I have encountered many excuses for not having a will: my estate isn’t large enough, everyone knows who should get my belongings, and so on. These are all simply that – excuses. If you do not have a will, the probate court creates one for you. As a result, parents, siblings, and possibly even cousins could receive preferential treatment over your partner (if you’re not married), friends, or your favorite charity.

Talk with your planned executor/executrix to make sure it’s okay with him/her to be the one who settles your estate. Also, let that person know where you keep your original estate documents so s/he can easily gather them after you pass away.

Powers of attorney – When most of us think of estate planning, we often neglect to think about those areas that can help us while alive. Powers of attorney allow someone else to make decisions on your behalf if you cannot. These documents, drafted with your basic estate plan, spell out the decisions that someone else can make for you and the circumstances in which they can. For instance, if you were in intensive care, you might not have the capability to make your own medical decisions.

Additionally, while in the hospital, you may want to have someone managing your investments and paying your bills. Your financial power of attorney may be the same person or a different person as your power of attorney for health care. In creating both, take your time to carefully select the person with whom you plan to place your physical and financial well-being. I also recommend appointing a contingent or back-up person if your first choice is unable or unwilling to make those decisions.

Even with powers of attorney in place, institutions in or out of your state may decline to accept them. My recommendation is to check with your primary care physician to ensure that he/she will take your forms and to make him/her aware of your intentions. Additionally, many financial institutions may only accept their own forms. As a result, I also recommend talking to your bank and financial advisor about your intentions.

Living will – Regardless of your desire to be kept alive or allowed to die, you want to make your wishes known in writing. As part of your estate plan, make your wishes crystal clear through a living will.

 Settling an estate is a difficult task for survivors. Not only is it an area where most people have little to no experience, they’re often quite emotional. By having a will, beneficiary arrangements, and an organized system of your financial/estate documents, you can help them tremendously during this time. Even if your assets are relatively small, doing some work now could make a significant difference for your heirs.

The most important piece of estate planning is getting one in place. Meet with an attorney, your financial advisor, and accountant to determine the best course of action for your estate. Review your beneficiaries on a regular basis. You will also want to update your estate plan every five years or when you have a significant life change, a beneficiary passes away, or if estate / income tax laws change.

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Author Profile

Woody Derricks, CFP®
Woody Derricks, CFP®
Throughout my nearly 20 years as a Financial Advisor, I have seen some of the best and worst markets in our history. That experience allows me to approach my clients with the knowledge of how the markets fit into their greater financial picture. At Partnership Wealth Management we help everyday people who have accumulated wealth make sense of what they have and work with them to maximize their financial opportunities in a relaxed, comfortable, and professional environment. While we help people from all walks of life, many of our clients are same-sex couples searching for a knowledgeable, LGBT-friendly financial advisor to help them with their unique financial planning needs. I am a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and have the Accredited Domestic Partnership Advisor(sm) designation. As a Registered Investment Advisor, we are not tied to any company’s investment products allowing us to provide unbiased advice by offering a wide array of investments and other products to our clients. Since 2001, I have been writing articles on financial planning for several regional newspapers and have been a guest speaker on LGBT financial issues for various local and national organizations. Additionally, I have conducted financial planning workshops for large corporations and government agencies. Non-Profit Work I believe that it is important to give back to the community and currently serve as the treasurer for FreeState Justice and as a co-founder/president of Paws for a Cause. I’m a current member of several LBGT, environmental, and local community groups. Personal My wife, Heidi and I enjoy camping, hiking, and traveling with our daughter, Elise, and our dogs, Fenway & Roxy. Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and federally registered CFP (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.