There’s no time like the present to make sure all your estate-planning ducks are in a row.
For many people, the words ‘estate planning’ may conjure up thoughts of large inheritances and tax shelters. But planning ‘isn’t just about death and taxes; it’s also about what happens if you get very sick and live,’ says G. Mark Shalloway, a West Palm Beach, Fla., attorney who specializes in elder law.
Here’s are the four estate-planning documents everyone needs:
1 A will.
Many people think they don’t need a will. But sitting down with a lawyer and completing a will is the best way to ensure your wishes will be fulfilled–and to avoid leaving anything up to the courts. ‘It’s often best to do a very simple will directing where things go,’ says Philip Bouklas, an attorney in New York. That’s especially the case if there are multiple children where it’s critical to name guardians for minors, he says. An important part of the will is naming the executor who is in charge of managing an estate, including paying bills. While you don’t need to tell anyone what is in your will, it’s important to let your designated executor know he or she has been chosen to do that job, and it might be a good idea to inform other family members, too.
Mr. Bouklas also suggests having discussions with family members about how personal effects or family heirlooms are handled.
‘You can’t just stick your head in the sand and say ‘they’ll figure it out,’ ‘ he says.
There may be a temptation to do a will on the cheap, using online resources. Tread warily. Small details can end up invalidating wills or leaving your wishes unfulfilled.