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The basics of estate planning : part I

Despite the significance, many people fail to establish a comprehensive estate plan. In fact, according to a 2011 Harris Interactive Survey, only 43 percent of U.S. residents even have a will. For some, the process of contemplating death and the fate of loved ones left behind seems too difficult to bear. For others, the estate planning process may seem too overwhelming and complex.

In this three-part blog series, we'll attempt to break down those components that are essential to most estate plans. This information can benefit individuals who feel overwhelmed by the estate planning process and help empower people to make decisions that can provide for both their future as well as that of loved ones.

The most basic and essential component of any estate plan is a will. A will is readily used to both pass along assets as well as pay outstanding debts upon an individual's death. The estate of individuals who die without a will must go through a process known as probate which can be costly and time consuming. What's more, probate records are public meaning anyone can obtain information about an individual's assets and their estimated value.

In addition to a will, many assets can pass directly to intended loved ones via beneficiaries. Accounts that typically require an individual to name a beneficiary include bank and investment accounts, retirements accounts and life insurance policies. Not only is it critical that an individual ensure they name both a primary and secondary beneficiary to such accounts, but it's also important to ensure designated beneficiaries are updated.

Depending on an individual's circumstances, wishes and goals; estate planning can be complex. For these reasons, it's advisable to seek the advice and assistance of an attorney who specifically handles estate planning matters. We'll continue to discuss the basics of an estate plan in out next blog post.

Source: Consumer Reports Money Adviser, "How to create a bulletproof estate plan: We've broken down this seemingly daunting task into 7 steps," Nov. 3, 2013

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