Do you have an estate plan? Oh sure, you may have some life insurance and a will, but if you are in business, that is not really an estate plan. That’s a worst-case-scenario plan.
What I am talking about is an actual plan for what will happen to your property and business should something bad happen to you. And it need not even be death (though yes, that’s pretty bad.) A good estate plan anticipates problems—some inevitable, some not—and is your strategy for how you wants things to progress if or when that happens.
Here is what you need to consider:
Disability insurance: What if you were to get injured or sick and need to miss a significant amount of work? Self-employed people would be hit very hard in that circumstance. That is why a good estate planner at least considers the possibility of carrying disability insurance.
Disability insurance is an affordable product that replaces, typically, up to 60 percent of your income on a tax-free basis if illness or injury prevents you from earning your income.
Life insurance: Why do you work so hard? Of course a main reason is to give your family a good life. That is the idea behind life insurance. What would it cost to feed, house, clothe and educate your family if you were to die today? You need enough life insurance for that, and also, enough to, say, help them with a down payment on a home or to start a business.
Term insurance is another very affordable product. Whole life, while not as cheap, builds equity; something we all love. Either way, it is essential.
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Tax planning: While the limits on the so-called “death tax” (i.e. the estate or inheritance tax) are higher than ever, it has not yet been abolished. If you have a substantial estate and a bad estate plan, your heirs can lose roughly 50 percent of your estate to taxes. The amount you can have in your estate and not be taxed is ever changing, but for our purposes, until the laws change, think of $1 million as a benchmark.
Legal strategies for avoiding estate taxes vary, but the essential idea is to gift away “excess” income before you pass, and to also create a trust. As the trust will own your assets instead of you, there is nothing to tax.
The assistance of a good estate lawyer is needed for this.
Pour-over will: You will likely buy things after you create your trust that you will want to make part of your estate. A pour-over will dictates that whatever else you own at the time of your passing is to become part of your trust.
Health care directives: If you are unable to make health care decisions for yourself, your health care directive tells people what sort of care you want. Maybe you want to avoid “extraordinary measures” to save your life, or maybe you want them. Whatever the case, say so here.
Financial power of attorney: Similarly, you may want to give someone whom you trust the power to make financial decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself. You do so with a durable power of attorney.
Succession plan: What will happen to your business when you pass? If you are a sole proprietor, you will need to plan for and groom a successor. If that person does not want the business, you will need to have things in order so that it can be easily closed down or sold.
If you have a family-run business, you will need to decide how your share can best be divvied-up.
If you own a corporation or have partners, you will want some sort of buy-sell agreement. This is a contract between the parties that dictates how partners or shareholders can buy each other out; in this case, buying out your share from the estate.
Final arrangements: Do you want to be an organ donor? Do you have a family plot? Make sure these seemingly-small details are handled. Finally, make sure that all of your wishes, documents, and plans are in a place where they can be located easily.