What happens after your death? A last will and testament comes in handy to document the name of the person (executor) who carries out your wishes after you die. If you don't own a lot of property, a simple will is likely all you'll need.
Online wills are a one-size-fits-all solution, but can't account for the complicated situations of real life. Simple templates are available online for about $15 to $80, but because state laws related to tax issues and ways to handle specific trusts change often, you might unintentionally give someone more power over your estate than you want.
For this reason, and especially if you have a lot of assets to designate for multiple people, consulting with a lawyer is well worth your time and money. Things start getting really tricky when finances are involved. You need to arrange for special circumstances. Many a lawyer has noted that it costs more to clean up a financial mess afterward than to plan ahead.
And once you set up a plan with an estate-planning attorney, you'll be dealing with that person and his/her firm for the rest of your life, so it's important to ask a lot of questions to make sure you know the implications of your estate planning decisions.
Consider setting up a trust
But wills are only the beginning, and for many people, they won't be enough. Trusts are increasingly important. Some estate planners like revocable trusts, as they are more private than wills and harder to dispute. A revocable living trust can be changed anytime during your lifetime. You can serve as the trustee on behalf of the beneficiaries whom you designate. You can transfer ownership of various assets to the trust.
Make sure that the locations of your tax records and supporting documents are known, including deeds, titles, wills and insurance papers, and that your executor knows the names of your accountant, lawyer, broker and financial planner. To represent you after your death, your executor should know almost everything you know, so he or she can best carry out your desires.
A final letter
A post-mortem letter can do all the above, as well as inform your loved ones of things you would like done and guidance on how certain items should be handled. Sometimes this includes things that may not be appropriate to include in your will, or that need to be handled immediately after your death and before the reading of your will.
Leave several copies in places that will allow it to be found. If you don't want the information in the letter revealed before your death, leave it sealed; but you may need to update the letter periodically to account for changes.
Double-check everything with an attorney to make sure your will, assets and general estate planning are clear. Your final legacy can be one of order.
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