If you’ve done everything right, estate planning will be an issue that needs addressing. With proper planning and flexibility during retirement odds are in your favor that there will be something left to pass along to whoever you see fit to leave a legacy to. However estate planning goes beyond deciding your beneficiaries, though this is one of the major considerations.
If you haven’t done so already, you should make sure your estate plan is in order early into your retirement. The longer you put off implementing an estate plan, the more you risk making decisions when you are less healthy and not as mentally sharp as you were before. One of the main purposes for an estate plan is to legally minimize taxes and ease the burden on your heirs in their time of grieving, so the decisions you make should be well thought out and with this in mind.
Some key things to think about during the estate planning process are:
ACCOUNT BENEFICIARY DESIGNATIONS: You should make sure that any accounts or insurance policies for which you have named a beneficiary reflect your wishes. Because named beneficiaries on file for accounts where this is possible take precedent over any wishes expressed in a will or trust, it is important to make sure that this information is kept up-to-date.
WILLS AND TRUSTS: At a minimum you should create a will so as to give your heirs some direction with regards to your estate planning wishes. In some cases, and especially for estates that exceed the annual exclusion for estate tax purposes ($5.45 mil per person in 2016) it is a much better idea to establish a trust to handle your estate. We would recommend talking to an estate planning attorney, who will help you create the documents needed in any good estate plan. In addition, once your plan has been created, you should spend some time with the successor trustee or executor to go over its details, such as asset distribution desires. In fact, it would also be ideal to sit down with all beneficiaries and explain what your estate plan is, as this reduces the ever present possibility of infighting at the time of your passing.
GIFTING STRATEGIES VS. INHERITING: It is an age-old decision: do you gift away your possessions while you are still alive or wait until you have passed away to do so? Again, this becomes an important question especially for people whose estates exceed the annual exclusion amount for estate tax purposes. Your estate planning attorney should be able to help you come up with a plan that will benefit both you and your heirs, and minimize the taxable impact for your estate.
POWERS OF ATTORNEY: Establishing Powers of Attorney for financial and healthcare decisions is very important. Though this is a morbid topic, it should not be avoided, less your family suffer like that of Terri Schiavo’s. Again, think of this as a matter of easing the burden on those left behind to make the decisions; if you have done your estate planning correctly the way will be much clearer to them.
Lastly, even in retirement things still change in your life (you may acquire more property, you may get remarried, etc.) and your estate plan should reflect those change. Once the groundwork is laid, routine check-ups on your estate plan are a best practice.