Thanksgiving is almost here. Ideally, this day should be about more than football and the imminent arrival of Black Friday mega-sales. After all, the spirit of the holiday invites us to be grateful for what we have and for the presence of our loved ones.
But it’s important to look beyond just one day in November if you want your family to take part in your “abundance.” If you want to ensure your financial resources eventually are shared in the way you envision, you will need to follow a detailed action plan, including these steps:
Identify your assets. If you haven’t done so already, it’s a good idea to take an inventory of all your financial assets – your retirement accounts (401(k) and IRA), other investments, life insurance, real estate, collectibles and other items. Once you know exactly what you have, you can determine how you would like these assets distributed among your loved ones.
Get professional help. To ensure your assets go to the right people, you will need to create some legal documents, such as a will and a living trust. The depth and complexity of these instruments will depend a great deal on your individual circumstances, but in any case, you certainly will need to consult with a legal professional because estate planning is not a “do-it-yourself” endeavor. You may also need to work with a tax professional and your financial advisor, as taxes and investments are key components of the legacy you hope to leave.
Protect your financial independence. If your own financial resources were to become endangered, you clearly would have less to share with your loved ones, and if your financial independence were jeopardized, the result might be even worse – your adult children might be forced to use their own resources to help support you. Consequently, you will need to protect yourself, and your financial assets, in several ways. For one thing, you may want to work with your legal professional to create a power of attorney, which would enable someone – possibly a grown child – to make financial decisions for you, should you become incapacitated. Also, you may want to guard yourself against the devastating costs of long-term care, such as an extended nursing home stay. Medicare typically pays very little of these expenses, but a financial advisor may be able to suggest techniques or products that can help.
Communicate your wishes. Once you have all your plans in place, you’ll want to communicate them to your loved ones. By doing so, you’ll be sparing your loved ones from unpleasant surprises when it’s time to settle your estate. And, second, by making your plans and wishes known to your family well in advance of when any action needs to be taken, you’ll prepare your loved ones for the roles you wish them to assume, such as taking on power of attorney, serving as executor of your estate, and so on. And you’ll also want to make sure your family is acquainted with the legal, tax and financial professionals you’ve chosen to help you with your estate plans.
Click here to read more from Stephen Gerrald, our Financial Contributor.