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Identifying your assets
Assessing your assets and goals is groundwork for a good estate plan.
Few people relish estate planning. After all, deciding how you want your assets distributed after you die can serve as an unnerving reminder of your mortality. But there are plenty of reasons to tackle the task with some enthusiasm:
- You get to name the people to whom you wish to give your assets and know that your wishes carry the word of law.
- You can arrange it so that taxes siphon as little from your pot of gold as possible.
- And you have the satisfaction of knowing that your financial affairs are in order and that you're not bequeathing a costly administrative nightmare to your loved ones.
Your first step? Take stock of all your assets. These include your investments, retirement accounts, insurance policies, real estate and any business interests.
Next, decide what you want to achieve with those assets and who you want to inherit them. This is also the time to think about people you would trust to handle your business affairs and medical care in the event that you become incapacitated.
Once you decide what kinds of bequests you wish to make, be sure to discuss your plans with your heirs. The sooner and more distinctly you outline your intentions to your family and friends, the less chance there will be for disagreements when you're gone.
"If you treat your wealth as a hidden kingdom, a box that no one can open until you're gone, you're setting your family up for disaster," says Norman Ross of the Ross Companies, a New York estate-planning and benefits consulting firm.
In creating your estate plan, keep in mind that the laws governing estate planning are not set in stone.
Estate planning is far more complicated for people with sizable estates, and having a trusted and competent estate-planning lawyer is essential if you wish to protect as much of your assets from Uncle Sam (and your state tax collector) as possible. Such a lawyer can create legal documents, offer advice, keep your estate plan current with new laws and help administer the disposition of assets.