PUT YOUR WISHES IN WRITING

Estate Planning

Many people think of terms like “power of attorney” and “estate planning” only when they near the end of their working life. But there are great reasons for having your affairs in order — even when you’re young, healthy and decades away from retirement.

It can save you and your family money. In a crisis, it can also save time, avoid confusion and guarantee that your wishes are carried out and your interests protected, even if you are unable to make decisions for yourself.


What Is an Estate Plan?

Your “estate” is the total of all your cash and property — including your home, investments, automobiles and other assets. An “estate plan” is a broad term for how you prepare for your assets to be distributed or disposed of after you pass away.

Power of attorney and a Will are common in many estate plans. Estates worth at least $5.3 million may also include provisions for handling taxes and creating a trust.


Power of Attorney

Granting someone “power of attorney” doesn’t mean handing over control of your life or money. Instead, it’s a way for you to identify someone you trust to make decisions for you if you become incapacitated. You decide everything, from when it can take effect to what kinds of decisions that person can make on your behalf.

To grant authority to handle your TCDRS benefits if you become disabled or incapacitated, fill out the Durable Power of Attorney (TCDRS-67) form.


Will

A Will is a legal document describing how you want your estate distributed after you pass away. However, a Will does not impact who receives your TCDRS benefit — that is determined by your beneficiary designation.

Wills can be handwritten or drafted by legal professionals. In either case, the Will must clearly state how property is to be divided and must also be signed. If handwritten, the Will must be entirely in the handwriting of the person who passes away.

Using an attorney to draft a formal attested Will can avoid some of the common problems with handwritten Wills. Attorney fees will vary, but many charge a flat fee for a simple Will.


Taxes and Trusts

Federal estate taxes can be owed on assets you leave to your heirs. However, the vast majority of working people won’t have enough money or property to worry about estate or inheritance taxes. According to the IRS, the federal estate tax only applies to estates worth $5.3 million and up, after all allowable deductions.

Trusts also can prove useful with estates worth at least $5.3 million, as they provide a way to pass assets to beneficiaries without paying estate taxes. In general, a trust is a legal agreement where a person (the trustee) is placed in charge of property or funds being held in trust for the beneficiary.

For example, you could leave your assets in a trust for a minor child, where the designated trustee would be in charge of assets until the child turns 18 or 21. However, for estates valued at less than $5.3 million, it is probably easier (and less expensive) to use a simple Will.


Review Your Estate Plan Regularly

Once you have all your documents and arrangements in place, you should still review them every year or two, especially if you experience life-changing events such as marriage, divorce or the birth of a child (or grandchild). Taking charge of these issues can save you and your loved ones a lot of stress and hardship.

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