Estate Planning

Estate Planning Protects You, Your Heirs, and Your Legacy

More than half of all Americans over the age of 55 do not have an estate plan. Even more alarming, only 18% in that age range have all the recommended estate planning documents. Having an estate plan and the corresponding documents are critical. They protect you if you become incapacitated, preserve and manage your assets’ distribution upon your death, and safeguard your legacy’s wealth and your family’s future.

At the heart of every estate plan are four key estate planning documents that dictate your wishes.

A Will

A Will

A Power of Attorney

A Power of Attorney

A Living Will

A Living Will

A Health Care Proxy

The other side of estate planning is the process of implementing estate planning strategies that maximize the amount of assets passed to your beneficiaries by minimizing estate and inheritance taxes.

Common Myths About Estate Planning

Too many people believe they do not need an estate plan or estate planning documents. Here are some of the most common myths about why people choose not to create an estate plan.

  1. “I’m young and healthy.”
    You may assume you do not need a Power of Attorney or a Living Will because you are healthy and young. However, should you suffer an injury or illness and become incapacitated, these are the documents that will guide people about your intentions. Without these estate planning documents, you run the risk of having someone you do not know or trust make critical financial and medical decisions for you.
  2. “I don’t have many assets.”
    You may assume you do not have enough assets or large enough assets to warrant a Will. However, every item you own – from your house to your watch – has to go to someone. Without a Will, the State will decide who receives everything.
  3. “I’m single.”
    You may think an estate plan is unnecessary because you are not married or have no children. But remember, in addition to protecting assets, these documents serve to protect you if you cannot speak for yourself.
  4. “We can’t agree.”
    Often, couples with children delay creating a Will because they cannot agree on a Guardian or Executor. This delay could result in the State deciding who gets to care for your kids if you die unexpectedly.
  5. “I don’t want to think about my death.”
    Some people avoid the estate planning process because they do not want to contemplate their own death.
Learn Why Estate Planning is Important for Families of Every Age
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Estate Tax Planning Strategies Maximize Your Heirs' Inheritance

It is often said that death and taxes are the only two things that all people are guaranteed to experience, and your tax obligations may not end with death. When you die, you could owe various taxes on your estate, including income tax, gift tax, Federal estate tax, and inheritance tax.

The estate tax planning landscape changes frequently, and state laws can differ, making matters more complicated. The amount of tax you will owe depends on many factors, including the size of your estate, where you live, and who is inheriting your assets. Despite all these criteria, there are always strategies available to help you save taxes with proper estate planning.

Do you know what your estate is worth? We recommend speaking with an Access Wealth financial advisor to discuss how you can minimize your estate taxes and distribute the bulk of your estate to your heirs.

At Access Wealth, we have a proven process to help you answer these questions and more.

Learn About Our Process
A Will

Why You Need a Will

Virtually everyone should have a Will. This estate planning document specifies the following:

· Who will receive your assets;

· How they will receive your assets (outright or in trust); and

· When they will receive them upon your death (immediately or over time).

A Will is also where you will name an Executor to carry out your wishes, a Guardian for your minor children, and possibly a Trustee to manage any Trusts that have been created. Without this crucial document, the State will decide who, how, and when your heirs will receive your assets, as well as who will care for your minor children.

6 Questions to Answer Inside Your Will

Frequently Asked Questions
  1. Who will manage your estate (the Executor)?
  2. Who will manage any Trusts that are needed (the Trustee)?
  3. Who will be assigned guardianship of your minor children (the Guardian)?
  4. Who will receive your assets, when, and how much (the Beneficiaries)?
  5. If previously married, does your ex-spouse receive anything?
  6. Blended families can become complicated.
    How will your assets be divided between children from current and previous marriages? What about stepchildren, if any?
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What Happens if You Die Without a Will

The short answer to the question, “What happens if I die without a Will” is you died intestate.

States have laws that govern what happens to property left by an individual who does not have a valid Will at the time of their death. Typically, state laws favor leaving property to a surviving spouse and dependent children first. If those relationships do not exist, the state will look for other relatives.

Splitting cash or liquid investments may seem straightforward. But what about other assets, such as a house, car, boat, or special collections (e.g., art, wine, watches, and collectibles).

Should they be passed down in their entirety, split between individuals, or sold and the proceeds shared evenly? Do you feel confident that your heirs would divide everything amicably, or would a legal battle possibly ensue? If your heirs had no direction from you, would they know what to do?

Unfortunately, without a Will to dictate the distribution of assets, families are frequently torn apart as they fight for what they believe should be theirs. Formerly amicable relationships can quickly become bitter when money and property are involved. These battles often lead to an estate’s value becoming diluted as legal fees add up and attorneys and courts are forced to intervene.

Why A Power of Attorney is Important

A Power of Attorney (POA) gives a designated individual the power to act on your behalf. You can assign your Power of Attorney the authority to make all or limited legal decisions about your property and finances. Do not assume your spouse will automatically be allowed to make decisions on your behalf if they are not named as your Power of Attorney. Without a POA, gaining access to your loved one’s finances and property, and making financial decisions that would otherwise be joint, can become problematic. For example, something as straightforward as selling your home can be complicated if your spouse is a co-owner and cannot sign. Having a POA in place ensures that you and your spouse can manage each other’s assets should the need arise.

Why A Living Will and Health Care Proxy Are Important

A Living Will informs others what your personal choices are about end-of-life medical treatments. It spells out medical treatments you would and would not want to be used to keep you alive, as well as other preferences such as pain management or organ donation. Without a living will, should you become incapacitated, your physicians will ask your closest family members (i.e., your spouse, then children) for decisions. In some cases, the hospital may attempt all means necessary to keep you alive. This can place a heavy burden on family members who may not know what you would have wanted. It can also cause problems within your family if there is disagreement about treatment.

In a Health Care Proxy, you name the person who is authorized to make these difficult decisions if you are incapacitated and unable to communicate. It is critical that whoever you grant these rights completely understands what you want (and don’t want).

These two documents are often created together.

Why It's Important to Review and Update Your Estate Plan

Estate planning – like financial planning – is not a “set it and forget it” process. When life changes, your plans may need to change too. Assess your situation every few years. Has a new child or grandchild been born, has there been a new marriage or divorce or a change in a trusted relationship, or do you have any new charitable causes you may wish to donate to posthumously? Have laws changed which may necessitate updating your documents? Communicate these changes to your estate planning attorney or financial planner, and have your estate plan updated as often as needed.

The estate planning process may seem daunting, but it's too important to put off.

Estate plans and estate planning documents are legal records that will stand up in a court of law if contested, so consult with an estate attorney and financial planner to ensure everything is drafted correctly.

If you are wondering, “Who can help me with my estate planning near me?” you’ve come to the right place. Access Wealth incorporates estate planning into every financial plan to ensure the long-term financial success of you and your heirs. Speak with an Access Wealth advisor to learn more.

Plan for a Life Well Lived. Contact us to learn how we can help.