Have a plan to help protect what is important to you

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By the time most people reach adulthood they have heard multiple times that two things you can count on in life are "death and taxes."

While people deal with taxes on a daily - or at the very least yearly - basis, death is an event people tend to ignore, even though it could have a tremendous effect on the estate they have worked so hard to build.

By taking the time to create a strong estate plan, you can help protect your assets and loved ones while creating a way to retain some control even after you are gone.

Estate plans are not just for the uber wealthy. If you have acquired any assets throughout your life (money, investments or property), you should make sure your estate plan manages those assets how you would want when you are no longer able to manage them yourself.

Even if you pass intestate (without a valid will), the state in which you live already has a plan set up for you - and chances are good it will not manage your estate the way you would have wanted.

It is important to realize that an estate plan should not be implemented at death, but well beforehand.

There are three parts to a well-thought-out plan: accumulation, conservation and distribution (management). As you accumulate assets, your legacy goals should be a major component of your financial plan. To whom, when and how much you wish to pass on will influence where you save and invest your assets.

The same is true of the conservation stage. Trying to protect the assets you have accumulated to pass on to the next generation, while also making decisions to ensure you have a fulfilling and successful retirement, can make for a difficult balancing act.

And when the time comes to manage or distribute your estate, whether the transfer occurs through probate (wills, testamentary trusts), operation of law (joint tenants with right of survivor ship accounts), living wills or contracts (IRAs, life insurance) should have been planned out and legally documented.

The good news is that creating an estate plan that meets your goals does not need to be done alone. Financial planners, CPAs and estate planning attorneys are just a few of the professionals available to help navigate the complex and ever-changing worlds of investment products, tax codes and probate laws.

Building a team of professionals and combining their knowledge and skill sets should dramatically increase the chances of accomplishing your financial and estate planning goals.

Luke Gawronski, a financial planner with Barnum Financial Group, is a registered representative of and offers securities, investment advisory and financial planning services through MML Investors Services, LLC. Member SIPC. lgawronski@barnumfg.com

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