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Do you need an estate before you do estate planning?

That’s actually a trick question, by the way. While you may not have the sprawling kind of estate with acres of lawn, dozens of grazing horses and multiple tennis courts, you do have an estate. Your estate is the things you own: your home and vehicles, retirement accounts, bank and investment accounts, jewelry and family heirlooms, to list a few possible assets you may own.

The “plan” part comes into play as you set up a strategy on how to handle your assets after you’re gone. Consider working with an experienced estate planning attorney who has the intimate understanding of tax planning law to effectively distribute your assets according to your wishes.

Not just for the wealthy

Everyone should have a plan. If you don’t have a will, for instance, your family could argue and possibly go to court fighting over who gets that stamp collection of yours. Your money and possessions will be tied up and be reduced while court costs and fees nip away at it.

Five estate planning essentials

Work with your attorney to design an estate plan that truly fits your needs as well as your beneficiaries' needs. Some essentials of your plan include:

  • A will. This gives instructions for distributing your assets to your beneficiaries. You can use the will to name a guardian for your children as well. A little-known fact: Pets are considered property, and you designate in your will who looks after your pet after you’re gone.
  • A durable power of attorney. This prepares you for a medical emergency by giving a trusted individual management power over your assets if you become incapacitated and can’t manage them yourself. This document is in place only while you’re alive.
  • A health care power of attorney. This designates someone to make medical decisions for you if something happens and you can’t make them yourself.
  • A living will. Also known as an advance health care directive, this document expresses your intentions regarding the use of life-sustaining measures should you become terminally ill.
  • A revocable living trust. This designates someone to be responsible for managing your property and provides a playbook for how the assets will be handled after you’re gone—and for generations to come.

Working with an estate planning professional will ensure your plan is complete and that it follows your wishes.

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