Successful Estate Planning Key # 1

The key to winning is to find the starting line.

You don’t want to start your estate plan on the wrong foot like Diane did.

Diane is a busy mother of twins. She wants her children to be protected should something happen to her. Her idea is that, “Planning an estate is just like cutting out cookies. Everyone gets the same estate plan.”

Diane’s mistake, unfortunately, is a common one.

Don’t learn the hard way.

The first key to effective estate planning is to start right – by learning that no single approach will meet everyone’s needs. Click to tweet this.

Why You Are Special

Everyone comes to the starting gate with different needs and assets.

That’s why estate planning is personal. It’s not like buying a carpet that will be fine for everyone’s living room (provided the walls are brown).

Estate planning is also an ongoing process.

You have a different plan when you’re 65 or older than when you’re 35 with young children.

Here’s a way to see this more clearly.

Answer These Three Short Questions

 1. Are you:

 ☐    Single

 ☐    Married

 ☐    Widowed

 ☐    Getting married

 ☐    Separating

 ☐    Going through a divorce

 Specify other__________________

 2. What estate planning benefits do you want?

 ☐    Comfort of spouse or adult children

 ☐    Education of minor children

 ☐    Care for a disabled spouse or handicapped adult child

 ☐    Financial support of a local homeless shelter

 ☐    Sale of business to your business partners

 ☐    Support for the search for a cure

 ☐    Protection for Eddy and Teddy, your Siamese cats

 ☐    Securing your own needs in old age

 Specify other__________________

 3. Does your estate include:

 ☐    A house or vacation home

 ☐    A boat, car, or plane

 ☐    Investments

 ☐    Bank accounts

 ☐    Retirement or pension funds

 ☐    Life insurance

 ☐    A business

 ☐    Jewels, coins, or art

 ☐    Specify other __________________

 You have just begun identifying what makes your needs different from mine and everyone else’s.

Now you’re moving in the right direction.

How do you make sure you have met the needs of your spouse, children, friends, and community?

That’s the basic question of estate planning.

Start by Creating an Inventory of What You Own

You can do this by drawing a circle on a piece of paper. Everything you own fits into this circle. I call this your estate pie.

The three slices in your estate pie are your Will Assets, your Joint Assets, and your Designated Assets. Your estate can be worth thousands or millions of dollars.

 estate planning pie

Regardless of what you own, trust me: It all fits into this pie. (Learn more about my easy-as-pie approach in Estate to the Heart – visit for more information.)

The more valuable your pie, the more you will need professional help to get started. This is especially important if you are in a second marriage, have investments, or own a business.

Saving taxes is an important advantage of estate planning. We will cover this in the next key, Avoid Falling into Major Tax Traps.

See my related blog posts:

Estate Planning and Second Marriages: 3 Must-Know Tips

Common-law Spouses – Why You Need to Revise Your Will

Elder Abuse Is Real

About Ed

Edward Olkovich (BA, LLB, TEP, C.S.) is a nationally recognized author and estate expert. He is a Toronto estate lawyer and Certified Specialist in Estates and Trusts. Edward has practiced law since 1978 and is the author of seven books. Visit his website,, for more free valuable information.

© Edward Olkovich 2012

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