Jaime Cowper

A lifetime of hard work may have rewarded you with a nice home and hefty bank accounts, but what happens to all those assets once you’re gone?

Maybe you want everything to go to the kids. Perhaps a charity or a cause you champion should get a portion. And what happens if, before you die, your mental capacity diminishes and you can no longer make decisions for yourself?

Just thinking about your final wishes—or mentioning them to a close friend over coffee—isn’t enough.

“I believe too many people don’t do the proper planning to make sure that any wealth they’ve accumulated over the years ends up where they want it to,” says Jaime Cowper, president of Unity Financial Advisors (www.unityfinancialadvisors.net).

“Of course, that’s not going to cause any problems for the deceased because they’ll be gone. Those left behind, though, could end up feuding over property, paying more taxes than necessary, or just becoming stressed as they try to put together the puzzle pieces of your estate.”

But you don’t have to leave your heirs guessing about your intentions. Cowper suggests an estate-management checklist to make sure everything is in order.

And if you’re lacking with any item on the list, she says, a financial professional can help steer you in the right direction.

•A will. This is perhaps the best known document for letting your final wishes be known, yet it’s not as widely used as you might assume. Just 36 percent of American adults have a will, according to a Rocket Lawyer estate-planning survey by Harris Poll. If you don’t have one, it’s time to remedy that. “It’s especially important to have a will if you have minor children because you can use the will to name a guardian for them,” Cowper says.

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