Generally, an estate plan starts with a discussion of where you want your assets to go after you pass away. Most people have a general idea of who they want to have their property after they pass away based upon their relationships and obligations, but they often do not have a very detailed plan for what would happen if those people were to pass away before or at the same time they do. A good way of looking at the issue is to decide who needs to predecease you before you do not really care who gets your assets and then pick a charity or some other group that you like to be the final recipient of your estate if everyone else is already gone.
Another issue is to decide what happens if someone in a group or class of heirs passes away before the others. For example, you might leave all of your estate to your three kids, but what happens if one of your children passes away before you and they are still named in your Will? There are of course a few options here, but the two most popular are to give the deceased child’s share to their siblings or to the deceased child’s children, if any. As usual, it is important to think about the details.
In addition, a Will usually plans for the transfer of different types of assets. You do not need to list everything you own in your will in order to transfer your assets to your heirs. It helps to think of “specific bequests” before “general bequests.” For example, you might want certain person items to go to one person, but all your other assets to go to your spouse. After you have decided what specific bequests you might make, then think about where you want everything else to go. A will can name specific pieces of property and/or general categories of assets to be transferred to your heirs.
A Will can also arrange for the care of other people after your death. For example, it is common to leave assets that may go to minor children to a trust to be managed by a trustee of your choosing. You can also suggest a guardian or guardians for your minor children. The suggestion will be subject to Court approval in the end, but Courts pay attention to the people that parents select to care for their kids.
Your Will also needs to name an executor – a person that you appoint to collect and distribute your assets after you pass. This person ideally has access to your assets or will be able to quickly take possession of them after you pass away. Be careful to avoid creating a situation where a lot of your assets will be in the possession of an heir that may not cooperate or work well with the Executor.
Estate planning can require some uncomfortable decisions and discussions that are easy to put off. However, a well thought out estate plan can make things much simpler on your heirs and can ensure that your assets go to the heirs you select. As a result, a good estate plan is well worth the effort.
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