Estate planning is important for everyone, no matter their age or financial status. It tells the world how you want your property, belongings, cash, and financial assets distributed, and if you don’t make those decisions while you’re alive and able, the state will make them for you after you’re gone. That said, most people are not capable of building an estate plan by themselves: it is a complex process that requires a wide range of legal and financial expertise to get right. As such, one of the first steps you should take when considering estate planning is to assemble a team of professionals that can help you carry out your wishes. So who do you need on your estate planning support team?
Estate Planning Attorney
Arguably the first person you will need for your team is an attorney that specializes in estate planning. They will be the one who writes many of the legal documents that make up your estate plan, writing and tweaking them to ensure that they match your specific needs and desires. By going over your family and financial situations, they will be able to create documents that carry out your wishes in the most efficient way possible. This includes taking advantage of tax laws to ensure you get the maximum amount allowable by law.
It’s good to have a financial advisor on board during the estate planning process, as they can ensure that your plan fits with your overall financial goals and intentions. They can work with you during the planning process, recommending and funding your investment, trust, and retirement accounts, along with assisting in the proper titling of any non-retirement accounts you might own. Additionally, they can also ensure the beneficiaries and secondary beneficiaries named on your retirement accounts are updated.
Life Insurance Agent
Often, a financial advisor will also manage your life insurance as well, but some people instead turn to a dedicated life insurance agent while building their estate plan. After all, they likely have plenty of experience developing insurance policies that protect against property and financial risks. In some cases, they can be better suited to handling the insurance side of things than a financial advisor, be aware if they’re working for a specific company, as this could impact the product or investment they recommend.
Along with more general financial advice, you’ll need someone who can handle more complex tax and financial issues. A tax specialist or certified public accountant can help ensure that your estate plan fits with your other financial plans and decisions. They will work with you over the course of your life, filing taxes and making other financial decisions, meaning they will be very familiar with your financial situation and could make a good choice to be the executor of your estate when carrying out financial responsibilities.
Your estate plan will almost certainly involve real estate of some kind, so it is important to have a realtor on your support team. While you don’t technically need to make a will to pass down real estate, as your land and other assets will automatically go to your closest relatives, if you have specific wishes for how your property is divided up or who receives it, then you will need to write a will. Working with a realtor ensures that your land and related assets are delivered to your specifications.
Representatives, Trustees, and Agents
Upon your death, a personal representative is a person or company that was appointed under your will to administer their probate estate. They will collect all of the assets in your name, pay taxes, debts, and expenses, deal with creditor claims, and distribute assets to beneficiaries. They play a vital role in the final stages of your estate plan, so you must be certain that you trust them to handle the position. You can also appoint a trustee to administer and control any trusts established in your will or revocable trust, along with alternative trustees to take up their position if your first choice is unable to do so.
On top of all of these official roles, you should involve your beneficiaries whenever possible, whether they are family and friends, or business and charitable organizations that you wish to support. Even if they aren’t involved in the actual planning process, it is generally a good idea to keep them in the loop about your long-term plans. This includes the guardians of any minor children who might receive something in the event of your passing, as minors cannot legally own property or care for themselves.
Remember that it’s never too early to start building your estate planning team. Although some of these roles may overlap in some areas, it is in your best interest to enlist as much help as you need to get the most accurate and up-to-date information and advice. Working together with you, these professionals can answer your questions, clarify your desires, and facilitate your estate planning wishes, giving you and your family peace of mind for the future.
If you’re looking for an estate planning attorney or have general questions that can be answered by an estate planning attorney, call us at (219) 230-3600.
About the author
Christopher Ripley is a Valparaiso native and a lifelong Indiana resident. He is the oldest of five children. After graduating from Valparaiso High School, Chris attended Purdue University where he received his B.S. in Mathematics. He then attended law school at Indiana University in Bloomington where he received his Juris Doctorate. Chris has practiced law since 2013 and has served clients across the State of Indiana from Porter County to Evansville in a variety of legal matters. Chris is licensed to practice law in Indiana and Illinois.