(ARA) - There are certain things that you must do to take care of yourself and your family. One such responsibility is planning for what will happen to your assets when you die. While it may be something most people don't like to dwell on, everyone needs an estate plan. An estate plan is a blueprint for making your assets last over your lifetime, as well as for making sure that whatever is left passes along according to your wishes, and in a way that leaves more to your family and less to Uncle Sam.
If you die without a will, or "intestate," the division and distribution of your estate is governed by your state's law of descent and distribution, which means that the state decides what happens to your property. The chance that the state's mandate matches what you would do is slim.
For example, state law usually does not recognize the different needs of your children nor their stage in life. Most families have children with unequal needs, capabilities and requirements for care based on their age, health, education and growth. This is particularly true in blended families.
If you have minor or disabled children, do you really want the probate judge appointing their guardian? Chances are you have definite ideas about who you would like to raise your children if you can't do it. But that won't happen unless you make your choice known in a legally binding document.
However, estate planning encompasses much more than a will. You should also consider a durable financial power of attorney and medical power of attorney. In the event that you become incapacitated, either mentally or physically, these documents authorize someone you trust, such as your spouse or adult child, to act on your behalf.
You may also want to consider a living will, a document that says you want the right to die a natural death free of all costly, extraordinary efforts to maintain your life when it can only be sustained by artificial means. It makes such decisions easier on the doctor, the hospital and your family. Used in conjunction with a medical power of attorney, this tool can spare your family a painful, drawn-out and costly process.
It may all sound overwhelming at first, but there are many professionals trained and qualified to help you make your estate planning effective. Check with your state or local bar association for a local Certified Estate Planning attorney, or try the state CPA association. The National Association of Estate Planners and Councils (NAEPC) offers a list of members who have earned the special designation AEP (Accredited Estate Planner).
Estate planning is appropriate at any stage of life -- if you don't prepare for the inevitable, you may create needless heartache and loss for those left behind. Your estate plan should allow you to give what you want to whom you want to receive it, the way you want them to receive it and when you want them to receive it. Your estate plan should save every tax dollar, professional fee and court cost that is legally possible to save. Use good estate planners to ensure things work the way you want.