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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Here are the 10 steps you need to take to start your estate planning.
1. Start the process. Many people drag their feet in starting because they associate the process with their death. Remember, creating an estate plan does not mean you’re going to die soon. What it does mean is that, in the event of your incapacity, or on your death, decisions and actions taken regarding your health and the management of your assets and liabilities will be handled by the person you have personally designated, and in the manner you have personally directed.2. Identify a capable person or persons who you would like to be in charge of your financial affairs upon your death or in the event you become incapacitated.3. Identify a capable person or persons who you would like to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you become unable to make those decisions for yourself.4. To reduce the amount of time (and thereby reduce fees) necessary for your professional advisers to analyze your estate, organize as best you can your personal and financial records prior to your first meeting:  Prepare a list of family members and other intended beneficiaries, including their full legal names, current contact information and, if available, birth dates and Social Security numbers.  Prepare a basic financial statement, listing the assets you currently own, and liabilities owed, with reasonable “ball-park” values and amounts.  Make copies of your last two years of income tax returns.  Identify items of particular sentimental value you would like to go to particular persons.  Make copies of beneficiary designations for each life insurance policy, annuity contract, pension, IRA or other retirement account/plan of which you are a participant.  Prepare copies of deeds to real property, titles to vehicles and the most current monthly/quarterly bank statements and brokerage statements for your bank and brokerage accounts.  If you are a shareholder, partner or member of a closely-held business organization (such as a corporation, partnership or limited liability company), make copies of the relevant governing documents (such as buy/sell agreements, partnership agreements, operating agreements) and most current income tax returns.In order to provide you with sound advice, the professionals you consult for estate planning purposes will need the above information. The more complete and organized you can present this information to your estate planning professional for analysis, the less time he or she will need to take in gathering the factual bases for that advice.5. Hire a knowledgeable attorney experienced in the field of estate planning, one who is a “team player.” If you don’t know one, ask for a list of estate planning lawyers from the Hawaii State Bar Referral Service.  Do not be afraid to interview.6. Hire a CPA experienced in estate planning.7. Identify other professional advisers (such as life insurance agents, or personal financial advisers) with whom your attorney and CPA can work on your behalf.8. Direct your attorney, CPA and other professional advisers to work together.9. Think of the big picture. What are your major goals with regard to your estate assets?Start by thinking of who you want to benefit from your estate (individual family members and other persons, charities, educational institutions, etc.) and how you want them to benefit. At this stage, you shouldn’t worry about what you think can be legally done, or about what the tax consequences will be. Your professional advisers will be able to offer guidance on those subjects as the project progresses. What is important at this point, is to express your desires regarding your estate, and the goals you would like to accomplish.Next, ask your professional advisers to advise you regarding the various ways and legal tools that may be used to accomplish your goals, if legally possible. For example, does a will, revocable trust, irrevocable trust, charitable trust or special needs trust work best? What are the best uses of business entities (such as LLCs), gifting of assets, beneficiary designations, etc.?10. Get started now. Having documentation in place to provide for your financial needs and health care matters in the event of your incapacity, and for management and disposition of your estate at your death, will make things go much more smoothly.The people who will benefit most from a well-prepared estate plan if you become incapacitated and after you die will be your surviving family members. An unplanned estate will place a further burden upon your survivors to guess what you may have wanted. They will already be dealing with the emotional loss of your passing, and they will find it very helpful and comforting to have your written estate plan already arranged, with your specific directions. 
10:55 am hst 


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