Many people are so overwhelmed by the prospect of creating an estate plan that they never begin the task. In some cases, they might not even know where to start. However, several tips can help those who need to stop procrastinating and begin putting together their estate plan.
An initial and basic step is the preparation of a will which helps to ensure that heirs and designated individuals receive the appropriate property. A will names an executor who oversees the distribution of assets and takes care of financial matters. If someone dies without a will, their property is subject to the intestacy laws of the state where they live. In many cases, that means that a spouse and lineal descendants (if any) divide the person's property.
In some cases, a person might draw up a revocable living trust which avoids what could be a long and drawn-out process of probate. However, if the person has minor children, a will may still be necessary in order to designate a guardian. A trust can also protect any assets that might be passed on to minor children and can be managed and overseen by an adult trustee. Not all assets are distributed through a will as they pass outside of probate. Examples can include bank and retirement accounts with beneficiary designations, or real property owned in joint tenancy with survivorship rights.
Estate valuation can come into play when determining whether any estate tax is due. The current federal estate and gift tax exclusion is $5.25 million and is tied to inflation. Some states have separate estate taxes with far smaller exclusions and exemptions.