BBB Advice on the Basics of Creating an Estate Plan

  
     
August 06, 2009

Estate planning isn’t only for the wealthy, nor is it a topic people enjoy thinking about. However, Better Business Bureau advises consumers that if they own something of value they would like to pass on to family or loved ones at their death, they should create an estate plan.

A 2007 Harris Interactive poll, conducted for Lawyers.com, found that more than half (55 percent) of adults surveyed didn't have a will. Some of the main reasons for why they didn’t have a will included not wanting to think about dying, not knowing where to start or who to talk to about setting up an estate plan and not believing they had enough assets to need one.

“Those who don’t have a will are leaving it up to the state to decide where their money and children should go if they should pass away,” said Joan Coughlin, BBB spokesperson. “While no one enjoys thinking about their death, it’s important to create an estate plan so that assets go to the people you want and your children are taken care of.”

An estate plan can be as simple as drafting a will or as complex as setting up a trust and a living will. BBB offers the following guidance on the basic components of an estate plan and advice on choosing what is necessary for different situations.

Will

At the very least, anyone who has assets that they would like to pass on to specific individuals should create a will. A will can allocate assets as well as establish guardianship of children. Most wills have to go through probate after the individual’s death. In probate, a court oversees the payment of any debts and distributes inheritances—the process can last several months.

Living Trust

While a trust might sound like something only wealthy people need, it’s actually a tool for anyone who would like to set conditions on how and when their assets are distributed. A trust can also help reduce the amount of taxes paid on the inheritance and does not have to go through probate—unlike a will. Examples for creating a trust include wanting to give a child their inheritance over time, rather than in a lump sum, and restrict how the money can be spent.

Living Will

A living will provides a way for an individual to communicate their desire for life-saving measures in case they are incapacitated. In addition to a living will, individuals can also assign medical power of attorney to someone they trust who can further ensure that their wishes are fulfilled.

For simple estates, many Web sites offer an inexpensive do-it-yourself approach to creating a will; for more involved estates, it’s best to enlist the help of a lawyer. BBB advises researching any estate planning companies or lawyers first at www.bbb.org before paying for assistance.

After creating an estate plan, BBB recommends communicating the terms of the plan with the family members and loved ones it impacts. An estate plan needs to be revised every time the individual moves, changes marital status or is affected by major financial changes, such as investments or buying or selling a business. An estate plan will also need to be reviewed if anyone the estate plan affects undergoes major life changes such as marriage or death.

For more advice you can trust from BBB on managing personal finances visit www.bbb.org