As Valentine's Day approaches, it's time to think outside the box when it comes to gifts. After all, roses or candy are nice while they last, but the pleasure they provide is fleeting.
There is something you can do, though, that will pay off for your loved ones long after you're gone: Give them the gift of financial security by creating an estate plan.
There are ample reasons everyone should have a plan in place, and just a few key steps to make one. So get started today with a truly meaningful gift that will make a lasting difference.
What should be part of your estate plan?
For many people, estate planning doesn't have to be very complex. In fact, there are five key things that should be part of most people's plans:
- Advanced directives: Absolutely no one wants to think about becoming incapacitated and unable to consent to medical care. But if this worst-case scenario happens, your loved ones definitely don't want to be put into a position to determine what types of emergency measures should be used to prolong your life under dire circumstances. So make your wishes known in advance about medical interventions you do (or don't) want, rather than leaving your family to guess at your preferences -- and potentially end up in a dispute.
- Long-term care plans: Nursing homes and home care are extremely expensive and can decimate your nest egg. This could leave your spouse in dire straits and could leave your loved ones without anything to inherit. Don't let your life's work be squandered on nursing care. Make a plan to cover the costs, either by buying insurance, saving a dedicated sum for this type of care, or working with an estate-planning expert to qualify for Medicaid nursing home coverage while shielding your assets.
- A last will and testament: A will can specify who will inherit your property so your family doesn't end up fighting over it. You can also use it to name a guardian for minor children, to provide instructions for your burial, and to appoint someone to manage an inheritance that minors receive if you pass away before they become adults.
- Life insurance: Purchasing life insurance can ensure there's money available so your loved ones don't see their quality of life decline dramatically due to the loss of your income. For most people, a term life policy makes sense because this protection is needed only temporarily. But a more expensive whole-life policy may be called for under certain circumstances, such as if you have a disabled child who will need a lifetime of costly care after you pass.
- Naming beneficiaries: Some of your accounts, such as a 401(k), may require you to name a beneficiary. Make sure you've done so, and that you keep your beneficiary designation up-to-date so the right people can inherit the money you've invested.
In some cases, your situation may be a bit more complex. If you have a family business, you'll need a continuity plan. If you're concerned you'll pass away while your children are minors and want more control over the inheritance you provide, a trust may be called for. Trusts could also be used if you think your estate will be large enough that it's subject to estate taxes, if you're providing for an heir with special needs, or if you don't trust your heirs (of any age) to wisely spend the funds you leave them.
If your situation is complicated, a call to an estate planning lawyer is definitely in order. In fact, many people would benefit from a consultation with a lawyer to ensure they have all the necessary tools in place to protect their loved ones after they've passed. A lawyer can also help make sure your documents are drafted properly so they're legally enforceable. Many lawyers offer low fees to provide simple estate planning help.
So why not give your loved ones a truly meaningful gift this Valentine's Day? It doesn't have to be difficult, and you'll be glad when it's done. (It also doesn't hurt to pick up a few roses, too.)