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What are the most important benefits of a well-planned estate?

Everyone seems to know that an estate plan is not something that you should delay. In fact, the sooner you complete your estate plan the better because we never know when our last breath will be. The last thing you want to do to your family is to leave them scrambling to make sense of your estate and your wishes after you're gone.

To encourage you to get off the couch and finalize your estate plan -- if you've been loath to complete this task -- here are some of the benefits you will receive by doing so:

-- Your estate plan will designate exactly how you want to divide your estate and what you want your family members and heirs to receive after you're gone.

-- A well-planned estate will establish safeguards to limit the legal hurdles associated with your probate proceedings, estate distribution and ensure that your plan is followed to the letter.

-- An estate tax planning strategy incorporated into your estate plan will prevent unnecessary estate taxes.

-- Some estate planning strategies can reduce the time, cost and headache of the probate process after you die. Through the strategic use of trusts, payable on death accounts and beneficiary designations, you may be able to bypass probate for the transfer of certain assets.

-- You can use your estate plan to establish what types of life-prolonging treatments -- if any -- that you would like doctors to use for your care.

-- Your estate plan can also illuminate how to carry out various end of life tasks such as funeral arrangements and memorial services.

-- Designate who will care for your minor children as a guardian in the event of your death.

-- Name the estate executor or estate administrator who will supervise the probate process and the dispensation of your assets on behalf of your estate.

The most important thing that your estate plan will achieve is to make end of life matters easier for the family members you leave behind. As such, if you haven't created your estate plan yet, think of your family and explore your legal options now. It could be the best financial decision you make for your loved ones.

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