While none of us like to dwell on the idea of our own mortality, death is an inevitability that must be considered a part of adult life. The older you get and the more assets you accrue, the larger burden it would be if your loved ones were faced with your unexpected and unplanned-for passing. Even a small amount of confusion regarding modest assets could be enough to mire your survivors in probate court for many months at a time.
Therefore, estate planning in Montana is not just a good idea for the “old, sick and rich,” as is the common belief. Preparing for your death now — no matter how unlikely of an event it is — can help anyone at nearly any income level to ensure that their death is no more of a burden to their loved ones than it has to be.
To help you begin thinking about your estate planning needs and how you can ensure your wishes are clear upon your passing, here are the four steps you need to get started with Montana estate planning:
Step 1: Study Up!
Reading articles like these is your first step towards beginning the estate planning process. Digesting information helps get our thoughts rolling on dense subjects like estate planning, and it can also inspire ideas on what choices you would want to make regarding your estate.
One excellent resource to get started is Montana State University’s Extension estate planning information website. It has all the basic information and concept introductions you need to begin thinking about the different issues surrounding estate planning.
For instance, one major issue is that without a trust or well-crafted will, choices about your estate could end up being made within probate court. A Personal Representative of the estate will have to negotiate on behalf of the wishes of the deceased and any beneficiaries. They will likely be arguing against any creditors seeking immediate repayment of debt as well as any state actions that work against the intentions of the original will.
These struggles are one major incentive for arranging an estate plan that will be executed upon your death.
Step 2: Get Your Family Involved
Financial planning and estate planning should be a family affair. Discuss your intentions with your spouse or any adult beneficiaries whom you wish to take priority during the distribution of your assets. Find out how they would like to see the situation handled and any legal obligations they would like spelled out for them in advance.
Remember to involve your family early on in the process because the decisions you make could affect them greatly upon your passing.
Step 3: Make a List of Assets and Debts, Check It Twice
With general ideas in mind, you should begin to account for all of the items that would be considered part of your estate. You can use this rundown to help you come up with more concrete goals and objectives in terms of estate planning.
Your list should include:
- Property such as homes, cars, jewelry, antiques, heirlooms, firearms
- Business holdings
- Accounts, life insurance policies, investments, etc.
- Retirement accounts, 401ks, IRAs, pensions
- Lines of credit
- Any existing mortgages or debt
Step 4: Approach a Montana Estate Planning Attorney
With you and your family’s goals aligned and a comprehensive portfolio of documented assets in your hand, you can approach an experienced Montana probate attorney for advice and legal guidance on how to begin planning your estate in earnest. Your estate planning document from then on will be a work in progress that changes to fit the current state of your assets and the evolving desires of you and your family.