personal finance  |  april 9, 2024

The Estate Planning Essentials That Will Help Ensure Your Family’s Security

No matter the size of your estate, it’s important to have a plan in place to protect your family.


Key Insights

  • An estate plan details your wishes regarding health care and finances if you become incapacitated or pass away.

  • For parents of young children, estate plans can indicate who you would like to raise your children should anything happen to you.

  • Without an estate plan, assets are distributed according to a state’s laws.

  • Build flexibility in your estate documents to account for whatever the future may hold.

Roger Young, CFP®

Thought Leadership Director

An estate plan is an important component of any financial plan, regardless of the ages of your family members or your net worth. Whether you’re single, married, or partnered, there are essential components of an estate plan that can help ensure your family’s financial security.

A well-crafted plan will lay out your wishes regarding your health care,  your finances, the care of your children, and all your assets and possessions. If you’re a young family, you may wonder whether your current assets warrant creating a plan. While your financial situation is likely to change over time, that’s not a good reason to postpone planning. It is important for any estate plan to be forward-looking, and working with an estate planner can help make sure your plan is flexible enough to handle what you are not able to anticipate.

Why Estate Planning Matters

There are three main goals of any estate plan:

  • Caring for your children and/or loved ones

  • Directing your own finances and/or care if you are incapacitated

  • Distributing your assets after your death

To address these goals, you will need to put in place a variety of elements—including guardianship, a will, and a power of attorney (POA), among others—that together make up your estate plan. Having a plan in place can help to ensure that your intentions are carried out in case something happens to you.

Protecting Your Children

When you’re young, seeking a voice in what will happen to your estate after you are gone may not feel particularly urgent to you. However, these are important issues—especially the distribution of your assets to your children. For instance, in the absence of direction from you, your children may inherit your estate in one lump sum when they reach the age of majority, which is 18 in most states. Consider the challenge you may create for your 18-year-old child by suddenly handing them responsibility for managing a sizable sum of money. You want your estate plan to account for the various types of situations that could happen in life, and your choices now can help your children better navigate that uncertain future.

Building a Successful Estate Plan

Your estate plan consists of multiple parts that all need to work together to achieve your goals. The following are the key elements you should consider:

If you are a parent, guardianship of your minor children is the first priority when developing an estate plan. It is important to choose a guardian whom you trust and who will raise your children with your values. In the absence of a guardian, the state will have its own process for determining who should take care of your children. Consider also naming a backup guardian in case the primary guardian isn’t able to fulfill those duties.

Last will and testament
A will allows you to clearly outline your wishes in a legal document. It’s here that you can officially name the guardian for your minor children and direct how to distribute your property. Your will also names an executor who will ensure your wishes are followed.

Life insurance
A life insurance policy is an important way to protect your family’s long-term financial security after your death. It can provide liquidity to cover end-of-life expenses and an income bridge for your surviving spouse while your financial accounts and income sources are retitled or reset.

Beneficiary designation
Maintaining up-to-date beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts and insurance policies is critical because these designations supersede any directives in your will. For many families, much of the estate value will be in those accounts and policies. While naming a spouse or partner as the primary beneficiary is standard practice, it is important to think about naming a secondary beneficiary as well.

Trusts are often used as a tool in the distribution of your assets. They can help account for contingencies you can’t fully predict. A trust can help to ensure your assets will be available to support your children even if they develop poor financial habits in the future. For example, you can outline the circumstances or specific ages under which assets should be distributed. Despite their many uses, however, trusts aren’t for everyone. There is a cost to establishing and operating them, and if your situation is fairly uncomplicated, you may be able to execute your estate plan more simply through beneficiary designations and a will.

Power of attorney
A financial POA allows someone to make financial decisions on your behalf. You probably also want to designate a health care power of attorney (HCPA)—someone who can make medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated. A living will, also called an advance medical directive, outlines your wishes for what type of care you wish to receive.

Getting Started

While essential for everyone, having an estate plan in place is particularly important for families with minor children. Begin with a will that names a guardian and lays out the distribution of your assets. Ensure that your children will be financially supported after your death with adequate life insurance. Then, customize your plan to address your unique goals and situation.

An estate plan is critical for anyone who wants a say in their health care or finances after they become incapacitated or die. That is particularly true when family is involved. If you’re overwhelmed, don’t feel like you have to figure it all out yourself. You can get help from a professional. An estate planner will ask the right questions and can help put in perspective the pros and cons of your various options.

Important Information

This material is provided for general and educational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, or investment advice. This material does not provide recommendations concerning investments, investment strategies, or account types; it is not individualized to the needs of any specific investor and is not intended to suggest that any particular investment action is appropriate for you, nor is it intended to serve as the primary basis for investment decision-making. Any tax-related discussion contained in this material, including any attachments/links, is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding any tax penalties or (ii) promoting, marketing, or recommending to any other party any transaction or matter addressed herein. Please consult your independent legal counsel and/or professional tax advisor regarding any legal or tax issues raised in this material.

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Next Steps

  • Learn more about estate planning.

  • Contact a Financial Consultant at 1-800-401-1819.