Exit Gracefully

Exit Gracefully

“Once you have kids, you can’t be a kid any more,” says Dahari Brooks, 35, a surgeon in Worcester, Massachusetts, when asked why he and his wife, Michelle, 31, recently took steps to complete their estate plan. “We were reluctant to even think about making wills,” he admits. “It seemed kind of morbid, but once we became parents it became even more important to have an estate plan, including our wills.”

With their estate plan, Michelle and Dahari are protecting their family, which includes 2-year-old Jason, and a newborn, Alexandria. “I’ve purchased disability insurance,” says Dahari, “in case I’m injured and can no longer perform operations. The insurance policy will make up for my lost income.”

As the baby boomer generation begins turning 60 this year, making sure estate plans are in place has taken on greater significance. If a significant number of black baby boomers die without estate plans, millions of dollars of accumulated wealth will not be transferred to the next generation.

The Brookses have been proactive about ensuring that their wealth is passed on properly. They say completing their estate plan has given them comfort and peace of mind. Their decision assures that their assets will be transferred to their survivors. You can do the same by following this advice.

Everyone’s estate plan should include a will. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re married or single; with, or without children,” says Vicki Brackens, a MetLife financial planner based in Syracuse, New York. “You need a will to provide directions as to how you want your wealth distributed.”

A will also names the guardians of minor children, who assume responsibility for raising youngsters if parents pass away. “You should name the people who’ll be the best choice, even if that’s not a member of your immediate family,” says Brackens.

There are consequences to dying without a will-it can wreck an estate. “If you die without a will,” says Fred Miller, a manager for AccuTech Systems Corp., a Muncie, Indiana-based provider of trust-management software, “your assets will be distributed according to your state’s intestacy laws, which probably won’t be the same as your wishes.”

Each state has specific laws that govern dying without a will, formally called intestate. The general rule is to distribute the assets to the immediate spouse and children first, but in most states, the law provides that children or other relatives can be entitled to up to two-thirds of the property. Dying intestate means the state will appoint someone to act as your administrator (executor), and may even select guardians for your minor children. Although the state will make decisions and act for you, it has no obligation to do so in a manner that will minimize tax burdens. Having a will and a thoughtful estate plan can help your heirs minimize probate, the process in which a court oversees the distribution of a decedent’s assets.

That’s why it is critical to seek professional help when drafting your will. “A will is a legal document,” warns Brackens, “so I