There’s a well-known phrase, attributed to Ben Franklin (but in reality a little older), which is that the only certain things in life are death and taxes. It’s not a fun phrase, but there’s a certain shoulder-shrugging wryness to it because there are some things in life one has to accept.
But even if you accept them both, it might be hard for you to wrap your head around the idea that death and taxes aren’t always separate and that you still have to understand tax implications for your estate after you pass away.
That’s why estate planning is so important for older adults. You want to be able to control your legacy and make sure that the money you’ve earned and the property or possessions you want to leave go to the right people in the right amount.
Of course, taxes are just one thing you have to prepare for when it comes to estate planning: there are a host of other issues that you need to take into account. Not doing so can make it challenging for your family after you pass away, but following these estate planning tips for older adults means you will make things easier on those who are left.
In fact, you could say that’s another certainty.
Estate Planning Tips For Older Adults
When you start thinking about your estate, there are some logistical and emotional hurdles to overcome. Here’s how you get moving:
Talk to the People In Your Life
Ultimately, the decision on what to do with your money is up to you, but you can also talk to your children and other loved ones about your estate. This doesn’t mean soliciting their opinions or asking for advice, but it can be good to say why you are making the decisions you are making. You can clear the air so there aren’t disputes after you pass away. You don’t want to be worrying about that.
Your children will probably want to talk to you about wills and estate planning, and they should be respectful. But remember this can be an emotional issue, so stay calm and firm.
Understand What Kind of Estate Planning Is Right For You
It’s no secret that there are vast amounts of inequality in the world, and especially in America. There will be different levels of red tape and different requirements for different levels of wealth. For instance, only about .2% of people pay the federal estate tax (or roughly one out of every 500). But if estate tax applies to you, you should understand how to make sure your money is taken care of.
It’s important to know all the tax and legal obligations that come with your level of assets. Ask yourself questions like, “What options do I have to help my loved ones avoid probate?” and, “What are the implications of continual non-wage wealth after death?” Making sure you know all your obligations is the best way to meet them.
Plan for Long-Term Care
The good news is that people are living longer than ever these days. The bad news is that money doesn’t enjoy that same extended longevity. Money can be spent and run out before you pass away, even when you still have medical bills and the costs of living in a facility or aging in place.
When estate planning, make sure that you have taken into account the need for long-term health and habitation needs, not to mention entertainment or travel expenses. You don’t want money locked away somewhere where you can’t access if you need it. Think realistically and actuarially.
Create a Living Trust
One way to protect your assets while leaving them accessible is by creating a living trust, which you can dip into when you need. When you pass away, your assets still go to your designated heirs, but you yourself won’t be caught in a bind. A trust also designates someone to manage your affairs for you if you are incapacitated. Make sure that you have designated someone as executor to ensure your wishes are followed.
Because of large tax bills or other expenses, living trusts can be especially helpful for executive-level estates.
Find a Financial Planner
There is no question that this stuff is hard. It can be extremely challenging to keep in mind all the rules and regulations and to have a firm grasp on all your assets and the best ways to protect and distribute them. Getting a reputable financial planner can make a world of difference.
The benefit of having a professional financial planner is that, well, they are professional. They’ll work with you to understand what you want and what you need in your later years. They will make offer you advice based on what they think is best for you and your needs. It’s compassion and professionalism.
Keep Your Documents Safe and Accessible
It seems anachronistic in the electronic age that you might need to rely on actual physical documents, but you often do. Wills, living trusts, living wills, medical care information—all of that relies on an actual signature. If these documents are destroyed in a fire or earthquake, or you pass away without telling anyone where they are, or you can no longer remember, it can be a real hassle.
So keep them safe, make sure you can grab them if you need to, and tell your designated executor where they are. It’s not just bookkeeping; it is truly safekeeping for your future.
Review and Revise
These aren’t set in stone. Your situation may change, your ideas of what you want to do with your money may change, the world itself may change. You aren’t bound to your first thoughts, especially if you are materially depriving yourself of financial flexibility (which again strengthens the need to have a revocable trust).
Make sure that you revise in the aftermath of divorces, weddings, deaths, or births. Make sure your wishes reflect the nearest current reality. After all, the point is to pass on what you have to those you love with ease and grace and without conflict.
Avoiding Conflict In Your Estate
Having your estate and financial affairs settled means being able to give of yourself, but it is also a gift to yourself: you’re giving yourself peace of mind. You’re able to know that what you have will live on after you while allowing you to live in comfort in the present.
Making sure that you have an estate plan means being able to live your life. It means that you don’t have to worry about a sudden disaster or slow sickness harm your family. It means that you are continuing to show love and take care of those you have loved and cared for all your life. Your love has always been the true certainty in life: make sure it keeps on living.
At Institute on Aging, our programs and services help older adults, their families, and caregivers explore aging together, through good times and bad, as an adventure and a journey. Contact us today to learn more.