You probably have a quick list of excuses if you're among the millions of Americans who don't have a will. Stop kidding yourself. Anyone concerned about personal finances needs a will, and more.
You need a thorough estate plan to spell out who should get what after you're gone - including responsibility for taking care of minor children - and to hold Uncle Sam's take to a minimum. But don't be intimidated. You can start right here and now.This article and those upcoming in the next few weeks are designed to prepare you for meeting with an estate-planning lawyer.
Step 1 is to determine what you own, what it's worth and how you own it. Gathering the information to answer those questions can be a bear, but it is the critical first step.
Using a computer or a pad of paper, create a work sheet. Across the top, label columns for the current value of assets owned individually by the husband and the wife, jointly owned property and community property. Also include a column for the total value so you can sum up your net worth.
Provide enough space to list everything you own, including;
- Cash (savings and checking accounts, money-market accounts and certificates of deposit).
- Investments (stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other investments).
- Real estate; personal property (cars, clothing, collections, antiques and jewelry).
- Employee benefits (such as pension plan, profit-sharing and 401 accounts).
- Life insurance.
- IRAs, SEPs and Keogh plans.
- Business interests (a sole proprietorship, partnership or closely held corporation).
- Money owed to you, and other assets.
Continue the work sheet by recording what you owe: current bills; credit card balances; mortgages; loans and notes; taxes; and other liabilities. Subtracting the liabilities from the total of your assets shows your net worth.