Why You Need an Estate Plan


You don’t have to be rich to plan for your death.

Whether you own a home or have children, experts say most people should create an estate plan to guarantee their assets go where they want.

“The most common mistake people make is there’s no estate plan whatsoever,” says Derek Gabrielsen, wealth advisor with Strategic Wealth Partners. “A lot of people think they are too young to need one or never got around to doing it.  But it’s never too early to have a basic will, even if you don’t have a lot of assets.”

Financial planners explain estate planning should include a will, power of attorney, health care power attorney and potentially a trust. The plan should be created (or adjusted if already made) after a major life event like a marriage or new baby.

Creating a plan doesn’t have to cost a fortune , and there are numerous online resources online that can walk you through the process. Gabrielsen says is should cost around $700 to have the legal documents drawn up, but complicated estate plans can cost thousands of dollars.

What to Include in a Plan  

One of the most common mistakes people make when creating an estate plan is focusing too much on avoiding paying taxes, says Cindy Peterson of Lau Associates, a wealth management firm.

“If you focus on tax and only tax, I’m pretty sure you’ll end up in the wrong place and may not get what you want for your heirs.”  She recommends focusing instead on who should receive your wealth and how assets should be divided.

Experts also recommend assigning the proper beneficiaries for the estate. Most parents leaving children an inheritance divvy it up in equal parts, but Peterson says that too can cause problems if one child isn’t responsible or has different views on how to spend the money.

For example, a family-run business can be ruined if two adult children are given equal inheritance when only one cares about its future.

“Parents assume they must treat each child identically without taking into consideration the children are individuals and have different needs. It may not be in the best interest of the family,” says Peterson.

Having the proper designation also comes into play with employer-sponsored retirement plans, especially if you worked at a company for a long time. When you sign up for a 401(k) or other retirement plan, you are required to name a beneficiary, but that decision needs to be revisited periodically to make the person is still the best choice. “Those assets in your 401(k) will pass to beneficiary even if you stated otherwise in your will,” says Gabrielsen.

Planning for your death can be hard, but it can also bring peace of mind. Naming who will take care of children can be unimaginable, so people often skip naming a guardian in their estate plan, but that can lead to bad ramifications for children. “What you’ve done is allow the state in which you live to make that judgment call,” says Judy Lau of Lau Associates. Naming a guardian doesn’t have to be an expensive legal document, but it does have to be something that is well thought out, she says.

Although the estate plan is designed to protect your heirs when the unthinkable happens, ideally at an old age, it’s impossible to make one plan and stick to that throughout your life, which many people do.

While everyone hopes to leave the world in old age, experts advise creating an estate plan with a 24 to 36 month outlook and then review the plan every few years.

“People try to plan for when they die at 110 and they are only in their 30s,” says Peterson.