Zen and the Art of Estate Planning

Physical health and peace of mind work together for a reason.

Defying long odds in modern society, we continue to better our heath, wealth and, often consequently, our peace of mind.

The hope, of course, is to have good habits pay off. By passing over the doughnut (most days) for an orange, we come to expect the Vitamin C to keep us running strong. Many of us have learned to do a few exercises before turning on the television soap opera. These decisions keep us happier and stronger. They also help us live longer to see our children and grandchildren grow and succeed.

It doesn’t stop with physical well-being. That nest egg you have created in your home or other investments have given you options that our ancestors could never fathom. These assets will hopefully grow despite numerous dips and will certainly allow more options to you and loved ones.

Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, our physical bodies don’t last forever. No, eventually the Vitamin C runs out.

But our children and grandchildren live on. And the assets that we nurtured can continue to grow with them. When we are pulled away to our higher and better place, we want assurance that we have properly passed our legacy to our loved ones rather than Uncle Sam or other undeserving relatives.

Zen is achieved by having your things passed to those who will value them the most and that isn’t the government. Complete peace, health and security can only be achieved by ensuring that you are prepared for the future.

Everyone asks the question, “What will happen to everything accumulated in life?” The answer is: “Whatever is written in your will or trust.”

When did you last review and update your will or trust? If you are forced to think back over years, or worse, have not yet worked with someone to create your plan, read on.

A plan made for you

Estate planning is for everyone. It is not a mechanism for the uber-rich. Estate planning is the process of documenting your wishes so that when you become incapacitated or pass on, your loved ones will know how you wanted things to be handled. It includes instructions on how to distribute and protect your assets but it also passes on peace of mind to your loved ones.

You have worked hard to live a healthy, active lifestyle by making the right decisions. It is only fitting to pass on those decisions as instructions. Explain things like: (1) who should make medical or financial decisions on your behalf, (2) declaring a guardian for your minor children, and (3) how you want to provide for your loved ones and protect what you have earned.

Each individual has different needs and wishes, and so it is important to have an estate plan tailored to you. Some individuals are concerned with the cost or publicity of the probate process and choose a Living Trust. Others have specific wishes on how and when their children and grandchildren should receive assets.

The options are endless and even simple needs require careful attention to changing state and federal laws. While Internet “wills” might seem attractive, the only way to truly protect your wishes is to work with an attorney familiar with the complexities of estate planning.

As we enter 2011, the death tax will likely be reinstated. That means many relatively modest estates could be surprised with high tax rates. Without planning, children could find that a significant portion of their inheritance transferred to Uncle Sam’s coffers instead of their own.

Have you updated your estate plan in the past five years to account for changing laws? If not, consider setting up an appointment now with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney. A simple consultation can help secure the peace of mind so important to a healthy life, for you and those who follow you.

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