With preparation, estate planning is easier than you think

Everyone needs an estate plan, but have you been procrastinating about getting the process going? Is it because you simply do not know how to start?

Organization is the key. Here are five tips to set you on the path to painless estate planning.

1. Make a list of heirs

Start by jotting down all the people and organizations you want as your heirs to one degree or another. Your list would likely include immediate family members, nieces and nephews, perhaps a life partner and special friends plus charitable, religious or educational organizations.

2. Put a financial spreadsheet together

Organizing your financial information will be extremely helpful when you sit down to begin your plan. List your debts and, of course, your assets, including the market values and how they are titled. Along with your home and any other real estate, include possessions like your boat and your autos. List bank and savings accounts, retirement accounts, investments, insurance, valuable collections, credit cards and unsecured lines of credit.

3. Choose a trustworthy executor

If you have a will, you will want to name an executor; for a trust, a trustee. Name someone you feel will be the best person to protect and wind up your estate, carry out your last wishes and distribute assets properly.

4. Select a health care representative

Who should make health care decisions on your behalf? Here is another need for a trustworthy person who can provide instructions to doctors and other medical personnel if you are unable to do so, and who will carry out your wishes about the medical treatment you receive.

5. Jot down questions

As you assemble all this information, keep a separate list of your thoughts and questions to present at your estate planning meeting. Your attorney will be able to work with you on the best plan for your particular needs. Although you are embarking on a process that may take more than one meeting to complete, it may surprise you to find how easy a process it is, primarily because of your organization and preparation.

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