Death is not a topic that is easy to get excited about—especially when it concerns your own. However, there are practicalities to consider when it comes to the division and distribution of your estate when you are gone. Estate planning involves the various actions you must take and documents you must create to make sure your money and property goes to the people you want it to.
Your first move should be to retain the services of a lawyer who specializes in the field. Only an attorney with the right expertise and experience will be able to draw up the kind of will that will be legally binding. Your lawyer can also help you create any trusts you may want to leave, and they will work with you to create any terms, conditions, qualifications, and other criteria you wish to attach to them.
Everyone should do this kind of planning, but it is imperative for you to do it if you have accumulated a large fortune or have a range of controlling stakes in various companies. You also want to begin the process if you are at the head of a company that you founded and in which you have the largest stake. The decisions you make could affect your family’s financial future and the livelihoods of thousands of people.
Here are 5 ways to get your affairs in order:
1. Take an inventory of your assets and liabilities
You may be active and fit and in perfectly good health. That all can change in an instant. You can be stricken with a debilitating disease or get into an accident. You should have a clear picture of your financial situation in case the unthinkable occurs, and this should be the basis of your will. You must assess your assets and liabilities. You should also come up with a plan to deal with your debts in advanced. Think of it this way: if you were to pass on today, how would your family use your current assets to pay down your debt? If you work that out ahead of time, it will save them a great deal of strain.
2. Determine who will be your beneficiaries
You want your family to be well taken care of when you are gone. You may also want to leave a few bequests to distant relatives, friends, and charities. If you have children, you may want to leave them some cash immediately and put the rest in a trust which they can access when they reach a certain age.
You should also deal with the issue of capital and operational control in your business. If you spent your life building up a business, you want to ensure it passes into safe and steady hands. You may have already trained and approved the person or team you intend to succeed you. In your will, you should make it plain that you want operational control of the company to go to the person you designate. At the same time, you may want your family to benefit from the capital that you have invested in the company. This can all be spelled out in the will, so that there is no confusion about who gets to run the company and who gets the financial rewards from it.
3. Designate an executor
The executor is the person who ensures that your will is carried out according to your express wishes. You may want a personal attorney who you have built a relationship with over the years to be your executor. The attorney need not have specialist knowledge in planning of this kind. It is possible for them to take advice from those who do. The most important quality of an executor is trust—they have to be someone that you’re sure about. Indeed, you can even designate a family member, who, again, can be guided in all technical matters by a lawyer specialized in the area.
4. Create the plan that you want
The making of wills and trusts can be an emotionally charged affair. It is alright to involve other people in the process. However, if the people you involve are provided for generously in your will, you will need to take that into consideration when listening to what they have to say. In any event, you should make the will that you want—a will that is consistent with the dictates of your conscience. You should not allow yourself to be manipulated or misled by people who are looking out for no one’s interests but their own.
Your lawyer can best advise you on how to create a will that will stand up to legal challenge. The last thing you want is for your will to be deemed invalid and your family to be thrown into chaos when you depart.