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Why is it important to have an estate plan in place?

While many have been conditioned to think that estate planning is only for the wealthy, it's not. It's actually for anyone who wants to take ownership of what happens to them or their assets if they become incapacitated or die. People of all means can benefit from drafting an estate plan.

One of the first steps in the estate planning process is to take an inventory of what you own and the debts that you have. You should write down the account numbers for both your assets and liabilities. You should keep any original documents in a safe place and provide the executor of your estate with them as well.

It's critical for you to also have a "plan B" or contingency plan in place also. These directives can be used by the executor to make secondary decisions for you if things don't work out as planned. Without having a contingency plan in place, you or your guardian could unnecessarily be dragged in and out of court to litigate such matters.

While a well-crafted estate plan will protect your assets for your heirs, it also be structured to minimize the gift taxes they may have to pay. It's often crafted to cover estate taxes and spell out whether you wish for any of your assets to go to charity as well.

If you own investment properties or a small business, then you should detail what you want to happen with them upon your death as part of your estate plan.

Parents of minor children should appoint a guardian to stand in for them if they become unable to care for them on their own. Adult children who you may wish to leave assets to in lieu of a spouse may also be discussed in estate planning documents.

Estate planning also involves you sitting down to designate beneficiaries for retirement accounts or life insurance policies.

Unless your carefully plan your estate, your assets may be passed on to unintended recipients or you may be kept alive under less-than-ideal circumstances. Getting your end-of-life affairs in order is a deeply personal matter that you should only entrust to the most experienced Mahopac estate planning attorney.

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