Some people mistakenly believe that estate planning is only for the very rich. However, a complete estate plan does more than just allocate assets and minimize the taxes that survivors have to pay on their inheritances. Everyone needs an estate plan, and every estate plan, no matter how complex, should follow some basic rules to minimize problems and ensure a person's wishes are carried out.

Make a Plan

Too many people put off the task of estate planning or think that they do not need to make a plan at all. However, if people do not make estate plans, then the intestacy laws of the state in which they live will determine who gets their belongings after they die. In many cases, the laws distribute a deceased person's assets to relatives, but they rarely do so in the exact manner the person would have done, had he or she made an estate plan.

Track Assets

People should make master lists of all of their assets so their estate planners can give them the best advice on how to organize their estates. Assets that people should list include all bank accounts and locations of the accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, real estate, safe deposit boxes and virtual assets such as online business.

People should update the lists annually and keep the list with other estate planning documents to make it easier for those administering the estates to find all of the assets included in the estate.

Name Executors and Trustees

Many people do not give as much thought to choosing an executor or trustee as they should. Many just use typical choices such as spouses or children. However, these people may not be willing or able to do the work associated with administering an estate, and all of a person's careful estate planning will have gone to waste because the estate is not well-administered.

Keep Plans Current

As people go through their lives, their situations change. After major life events such as marriage, divorce, death of a spouse, or the birth or adoption of a child, people should review their estate plans to make sure the plans still reflect their wishes about who inherits what. People's priorities may change over time, as well, and they may decide they want to leave more money to charity or make more gifts than previously.

Additionally, tax laws change frequently and people need to meet with their estate planners regularly to ensure that their plans take full advantage of any existing tax benefits and are not written for out-of-date laws. See John Goralka’s article: Coronavirus Crisis Brings Estate Tax Opportunity, for more information.

If you have questions about creating an estate plan or updating an estate plan, consult with an experienced estate planning attorney who can discuss your circumstances with you and advise you about how to best achieve your goals with your estate plan.