Estate Planning 101: Tackling Your Estate Plan

Creating an estate plan is an important and challenging decision for all families. Often, one of the biggest initial obstacles is discussing your own death or the death of a family member. Estate planning is complex and very emotional. Therefore, it’s helpful to understand basics of the estate planning process before approaching a professional.

There are a number of life events that are important times to create or update an estate plan for your family or business. While the timing is different for every person, one should consider what could happen in the event of a substantial life change. These life events include:

  • Getting married.
  • The birth of a child.
  • The birth of a grandchild.
  • The start of a new business venture.
  • An increase in net worth.
  • Change in tax legislation.
  • The death of a spouse or family member.
  • Inheritance.
  • Getting divorced.
  • The sale of a business or property.

There is no set rule for when you should have your estate plan in place, but if any of the above scenarios apply to your or your family, it’s a good idea to begin having conversations about it. Although estate planning may feel daunting or draining, not having a plan can be detrimental and add an incredible amount of stress to the situation.

Estate planning is an ongoing process that should be revisited each year. Listed below are steps to designing an estate plan:

Step 1: Learn The Basics

The first important step is to educate yourself on the basics of estate planning and to find out how your federal and state gift and estate tax laws affect you and your assets.

Step 2: Identify Objectives

The next step is to outline your objectives and choose potential fiduciaries (the individuals who will be guardians, executors, trustees, final heirs, ages of distribution to children, gift and trust structures). You will also want to create a personal financial statement showing a breakdown of your assets and liabilities.

Step 3: Review Your Insurance

As a third step, you’ll want to take a look at your existing life insurance and make sure it fits with your objectives. If you haven’t yet, it might be good to consider life insurance as a strategy to protect your family and income.

Step 4: Finalize The Design Of Your Plan

Once you’ve educated yourself and thought through your objectives and potential fiduciaries, the fourth step is to finalize your estate planning design, including deciding on fiduciaries and types of legal structure (wills, trusts, healthcare proxy, etc.).

Step 5: Meet With Your Attorney

The fifth step is to meet with an estate planning attorney to discuss this outline and determine if any changes are necessary.

Step 6: Execute The Document

The sixth step will then be to execute and finalize all the formal documentation.

Step 7: Review Your Plan Annually

The final step is ongoing. To navigate new legislation and/or changes in your life, it’s important that you review your estate plan yearly with your advisor.

Hopefully with this outline of the basics of the estate planning process, it might feel easier to tackle. As long as you find the right professionals to support and guide you each step of the way, the outcome will put you and your family or business in a better position for the future.

For guidance in creating or revisiting your estate plan, contact us at Wilson and Wilson Estate Planning and Elder Law, LLC, 708-482-7090 or