By Linda Graham, Partner, DBL Fort Collins, CO

Establishing a comprehensive estate plan can help you feel more confident about the future and ensure that your loved ones will be taken care of.  It is important to have a plan that will ensure that the assets you have worked so hard to accumulate during your lifetime go to the people or organizations you care about.  Here are five steps to get you started:

1)  Size up your estate.  Your estate includes everything you own and everything you have an interest in, including investments, retirement accounts, your home and other real estate, business interests, and personal property.  Draft a list of your assets and consider what you hope to achieve with any assets you distribute.  Also consider the special needs of any family members and whether or not you would like to give specific assets to specific individuals.

2)  Choose an estate planning tool – a will versus a trust.  The most common estate planning document is a will.  A will allows you to direct how your assets should be administered, to whom your assets should be distributed and who should manage your assets after your death.  A trust creates a legal arrangement through which assets are held for a beneficiary.  A trustee is designated to manage the assets according to terms you set.  The terms can be tailored to align with your wishes and any concerns you have, as well as meet the needs of your beneficiary.  Trusts are often used to avoid probate and to minimize tax consequences.

3)  Don’t forget about two other important estate planning documents.  No estate plan is complete without having a durable power of attorney and power of attorney for health care decisions that includes advanced directives.  A durable power of attorney is a simple way to arrange for someone else to handle your financial affairs in the event you are unable to do so.  Detailed and specific powers are granted in the document that allows your agent to step into your shoes and conduct your financial affairs.  A health care power of attorney enables a family member or friend to make decisions about your medical care if you are unable to and provides instructions on the types of life-sustaining and end of life treatments you do or do not want.

4)  Select your fiduciaries.  An important part of the estate planning process involves the careful selection of individuals or entities that you trust to carry out the plan you put together.  You could have multiple fiduciaries as part of your plan or designate the same person to carry out the role of executor, guardian, agent, and trustee.  The people you select should be highly trustworthy.

5)  Choose your beneficiaries.  Your primary beneficiary is the first in line to receive your estate.  Your secondary beneficiary receives the estate only if there are no surviving primary beneficiaries.  If you designate your spouse as primary and your children as secondary, your children will be entitled to inherit your assets only if your spouse dies before you do.  You can choose several primary and secondary beneficiaries to receive varying percentages of your estate.

You are now ready to contact an experienced estate planning attorney to get started with drafting a plan. The estate planning team at Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig will work with you to understand your goals and will draw upon their expertise to help you establish a plan that will meet the needs of you and your family. Contact us today.

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Posted in: Estate Planning