For Mark Roberts’ Use: Although most of us don’t like to think about it, estate planning is an important part of retirement preparations. You’ve planned for an income that hopefully lasts the rest of your life, and you’ve accumulated assets both in the bank and otherwise. But what happens if you don’t live as long as you had planned, and you leave behind considerable property and funds? An estate plan helps to ensure that your wishes are followed, and your assets distributed as you prefer.

On the flip side of that, if you pass away without a Will or any other plans in place, your estate will pass through probate court. A judge will decide how your assets are distributed, and your loved ones will experience significant delays and possible hardship during this time. It’s worth taking the time now, to familiarize yourself with your estate planning options. The following are some common resources that you can use to plan for your assets and how they are distributed.

Last Will and Testament. Often referred to simply as a “Will”, this document allows you to state how you want your assets to be divided, and to whom they are given. Your estate will still pass through probate, but the judge will usually follow the Will. Occasionally, these can be challenged, and delay the process even further.

Trusts. With a Trust, you can ensure that your assets are distributed as you prefer, and the assets you place within that Trust will not be subject to the probate process. Upon your death, your assets are immediately transferred as according to the agreements set forth by the Trust. There might also be tax advantages to using a Trust, and you or your beneficiaries can benefit from the expertise of professional asset managers.

Joint Ownership. How you hold title to all of your property will determine how it is passed to heirs after your death. For example, if you jointly own a vacation home with a child, that asset automatically passes to him or her after your death. The same can be said of your primary home, a business, your bank accounts, and investments. As you pursue estate planning, make sure to discuss issues of joint ownership with your attorney.

Since estate planning is a complicated topic, we recommend that you work closely with a qualified attorney to make these decisions. We would also be happy to offer our input on these issues, such as life insurance policies or how various assets might be taxed. Let’s discuss estate planning at your next appointment, so we can be sure your assets will be distributed as you prefer.