You’ve read in my recent posts why you need to plan your estate, you’ve talked to your partner, and you’re ready to go… you just aren’t sure how to get started. This is understandable; estate planning can feel like an overwhelming endeavor when you’re presented with everything at once. The trick to getting started with your planning is to take it one step at a time.
Write down your goals. You may have a number of different goals for your estate plan (this is especially true for gay, unmarried, or otherwise “unique” families); they can be anything from “name my partner as guardian of our children” to “ensure I have the right person making important decisions for me.” Knowing your goals from the outset will make all subsequent decisions much easier.
Make a list of the people you trust. Throughout your estate plan you’ll be nominating people to take over financial, healthcare, and guardianship responsibilities if something happens to you. Have a rough list of people you would trust in these roles. Begin with your initial goal and go from there. For example, if your initial goal was guardianship of minors, make a list of people you would trust with the care your child, and move from there to financial decision-makers, etc.
Make a list of people you don’t trust. If you’re having trouble coming up with people for the list above, it sometimes helps to consider the people you would NOT want to be responsible for your child, your finances, or your healthcare. Write down those people and work backward from there. If your kids must be kept from crazy Uncle Joe at all costs, would your cousin Emily be an acceptable alternative, even if she does have a different parenting style?
Know your assets. Make a list of all your assets, their approximate values, and in whose name they are owned. (Non-traditional families often hold assets in the name of only one partner, and unfortunately you can’t simply add your partner’s name as a joint owner of the asset without incurring gift tax.) Having a clear list of this information will help your estate planner determine what kind of asset protection or inheritance plan you need. Assets include:
- Your Home
- Investment/Vacation Property
- Bank Accounts
- Savings/Investment Accounts
- Retirement Accounts
- Life Insurance
- Family Owned Business
Bring In the Professionals. Estate planning is a very technical process—especially when you’re trying to achieve the same goals traditionally married couples receive as a matter of course—and you’ll need professional help to cover all the bases. The good news is that getting started is half the battle. Once you have your goals, and you’ve called to make an appointment, I can help you take care of the rest.
It may look overwhelming at first, but even non-traditional estate planning is really just a series of small steps, each of which leads you to the achievement of your ultimate goal: Protecting and providing for your partner and family. Now that you know it’s so easy… what are you waiting for?