Estate planning tips

It's never too early to begin thinking about your legacy or to shape your estate plan. Contrary to what many people think, you don't need to be a millionaire to have an estate plan. An estate plan is an imperative part of any ongoing financial planning process.

What is estate planning?

Estate planning is the process of mapping out how your estate and assets will be divided in the event of your death, and to whom they will be passed on to. It also includes a plan for end-of-life health decisions should you become incapable of making these decisions yourself. Ideally, a good estate plan also seeks to minimize the tax burden for those inheriting your assets. 

Why is estate planning important?

Your life, your dreams, and your legacy transcend money — they also encompasses your values. Your wishes and dreams may include using your assets to help secure your family's future or you may choose to support another cause close to your heart. This might be your favorite charity, your community or your place of worship.

Elements of an estate plan

  • A will lets you specify your wishes, including how you want your property distributed, who will administer your estate and who will care for your minor children.
  • A trust holds your assets for the benefit of one or more people (you, your spouse, and your children). You'll need an attorney's assistance to create a trust.
  • Life Insurance proceeds are paid to a beneficiary at your death.
  • Gifts are transfers of property made during your life to family, friends or charity.
  • Tax exclusions are available as important estate planning tools. Consult your tax professional for details.

Preparing to plan your estate

Designing a legacy consistent with your dreams and values is a personal, often complex process. But it's well worth the effort. Consider setting up a family estate planning meeting to help improve communication, prevent conflicts and let your family know what's important to you.

After giving some thought to your wishes, including the needs of family members you want to provide for, seek the professional guidance and estate planning advice you need from your attorney, tax professional and financial advisor. To help you estimate the value of your estate, you'll need to take the following into consideration:

  • Current income and likely future income
  • Annual expenses
  • Current assets and debts
  • Tax implications of federal transfer taxes, state death taxes and federal income taxes

Revisit your estate plan regularly

Just like your financial plan, it's important to review your will and other estate planning documents regularly, or when significant life events occur. An Ameriprise financial advisor can help you create a financial plan that includes estate planning strategies designed to help you reflect the things that are important to you.