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How to get the estate planning ball rolling

Last week folks in Nevada and across the country remembered Martin Luther King, Jr. for his efforts in American history. His legacy is also a great example of the great need for estate planning. Currently his family is in a battle with his former secretary over documents she claims Martin Luther King, Jr. gave her. Just like the King family, more than half of all families in America are without a will and may face a similar situation once the estate owner passes away.

There are many reasons that families don't end up with an estate plan, from those who never get around to it to those that overanalyze the situation and let the details paralyze them from moving forward with a decision. Thankfully, it doesn't have to be complicated and there are some thoughts to take into consideration in order to get the ball rolling.

If you have minor children, it is important to name a guardian. Of course, it isn't likely that you will pass away until you are a long-time senior citizen, but just to be safe it is good to name a guardian. How do you pick one? Don't overanalyze it. Usually one of the first people to pop into your head is a good choice. When it comes to this type of decision, it is good to trust your gut. Of course, once you make a decision, if you want to change it in the future, you always have that option.

Another thought to consider is the size of your estate. If it is small and somewhat simple, you may be able to get away with just naming a beneficiary for all of your assets, such as bank accounts and retirement accounts. Of course you may still want to write up a will if you want something specific done with your automobile or personal items. But if you own a home or other real property, you may want a trust in order to bypass probate. On top of that, if you have a large estate, you may want to work with an estate planning attorney due to constantly changing rules and tax exemption policies. Finally, if you want something special done with your money after you pass, a trust can be a very good vehicle to do that.

Source: Forbes, "A Common Sense Approach to Estate Planning," Nancy Anderson, Jan. 19, 2012

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