Estate Planning

  • Have you determined who should get what you own when you die? 

  • Have you determined who should be in charge when you can’t make your own decisions? 

  • Do you have minor children? If so, have you determined who should care for them when you can’t? 

  • Have you legally documented these decisions? 

  • Have you updated your estate plan and asset titles in the last 2 years? 

  • Do your beneficiaries and the people you’ve nominated to be in charge know what to do if something happens to you?

Things to consider

Estate planning is important for everyone, not just the wealthy. It’s about protecting and providing for you and your family, not just about money or taxes. A plan that works allows you to achieve the definition of estate planning, which is maintaining control during your lifetime, planning for your disability, then giving what you have to whom you want, when you want and the way you want.

What you need to know

Failure to plan, or having an inadequate plan, may result in:

  1. Giving control to a court as to how your assets are divided
  2. Your children losing their inheritance to your spouse’s new spouse
  3. Your beneficiary losing their inheritance to their creditors
  4. Your beneficiary losing half their inheritance to a spouse as a result of divorce
  5. Someone you don’t know and don’t trust making financial and medical decisions for you when you can’t
  6. A judge deciding who takes care of your minor children

An out-of-date plan can lead to the same (or worse) failures as not planning at all. No matter what your life stage, the time to create an estate plan is now.

What it means

There are four phases of estate planning: Design, Implementation, Maintenance and Settlement.

  • The Design phase involves gathering information about your assets and the people you want involved in your plan, setting goals for what you would like your plan to accomplish and making decisions about how your plan should function.
  • The Implementation phase involves legally documenting the decisions you made in the Design phase to enforce the goals you set and changing the title of your assets to coordinate with your plan.
  • The Maintenance phase involves regular review of your goals, assets, personal situation and the law to determine whether your plan will still function as you expected.
  • The Settlement phase involves putting the plan you have made into effect after you become disabled or pass away.

Establish what phase of estate planning you're in, then work with your advisor to determine next steps.

Open up a dialogue with your advisor regarding your estate plan. If you do not have an estate plan, complete our Personal Affairs Organizer.

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The above article is not legal advice and employees of Financial Engines are not estate attorneys or estate planners. Readers should consult with an estate-planning attorney prior to making any legally binding decisions.

1. American Bar Association — Estate Planning FAQs — October 2014

2. The New York Times — In Estate Planning, Family Isn’t Always First, May 2014 (study from University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study — Survey of 26,000 People Over the Age of 50 — 2012)

3. U.S. News Money - What Type of Estate and Tax Planning Do I Need to Do? February 2012 (Harris Interactive Phone Survey for Rocket Lawyer — 2011)

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