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Ernest Draper, CFP®
Ernest Draper, CFP®
Guardian Disability Income Specialist (612) 746-2272

Have you taken these key estate planning steps?

Retirement Read Time: 3 min min

Do you ever think about your legacy? About what you’ll leave behind for your family or loved ones? If so, you’re not alone. Our research found that 58% of working Americans consider ‘building an estate for their heirs’ to be a financial priority.1 So what is estate planning? What does it mean to have an estate plan?

What is estate planning?

Estate planning is a type of financial strategy where people prepare to bequeath assets to loved ones or next of kin after death. Most often this type of financial strategy is organized and managed by a financial, tax and legal professionals.

Estate planning can have tax benefits

Estate planning can also help mitigate tax issues by discussing various scenarios in advance that might impact an estate you leave behind or its beneficiaries. Once again this is usually best accomplished through consulting a financial, tax and legal professionals.

Having no plan may put your estate at risk

If you haven’t done any estate planning, then you’re without a basic strategy and may be taking risks with your wealth. In the absence of the proper documents to protect and transfer your assets, decisions will be made based on the law, not your wishes. And the value of your estate could be negatively impacted due to estate settlement costs and taxes.

How to start estate planning

Putting an estate strategy in place sounds complex, but a good way to start is by working with a legal professional and focusing on the top three typical tools:

1. Last will and testament

Put simply, your will is what you want done with your money and possessions after you die. It should lay out who gets the house, the investments, personal possessions, and everything else you hold dear. If you die without setting down a will, the state may step in and make those decisions. While it’s possible to create a will on your own, and something is certainly better than nothing, it’s always helpful to work with a professional.

2. Living will and healthcare proxy

On the other hand, a “living will” spells out your wishes about end-of-life care. For example, how long would you want to stay on life support? A healthcare proxy designates a person to make those decisions should you become mentally or physically unable. These two documents go hand-in-hand, and you can work with a legal professional or find basic forms online for laying them out.

3. Durable power of attorney

Power of attorney is the legal and financial equivalent of the living will. It’s a document that sets out who can make financial decisions on your behalf in the event that you are incapacitated.

There are other tools in the estate planning process you’ll want to look into, but if you want to leave a lasting legacy these three documents are the bare minimum you typically need to have in place. The good news is that having these in hand helps to assure that you’re protecting your estate and loved ones, and setting up these documents will prepare you to further engage the process.

Why you should start planning now

You might feel you still have your whole life (or a significantly sized portion of it) ahead of you, especially if you’ve experienced some early financial successes. Or maybe the priority right now is building an estate, but you’re not thinking about ensuring its long-term viability. If it’s helpful for you while you focus on nearer-term goals, look at estate planning as part of a strategy to create a powerful “future spending engine.” Planning forward can also help you meet important goals such as:

  • Funding your children’s and grandchildren’s education
  • Providing ongoing care for elderly relatives or a special needs child
  • Supporting your favorite charities, non-profits, or arts organizations

Whole life insurance can help

A flexible estate planning tool such as a whole life insurance policy that provides a primary death benefit and the potential to accumulate cash value can guarantee that a certain amount of money will be left to your heirs.2,3,4 You can transfer a whole life insurance policy, with its cash value, into a trust, creating tax advantages for your beneficiaries. You can also potentially gift money tax-efficiently to pay for a whole life insurance policy for a beneficiary, ensuring they’re financially protected after you’re gone.

Don’t put off making your strategy

Many Americans haven’t even taken the first step in estate planning, which is making out a will, because they keep putting it off. But families who never find the “extra time” may suffer serious financial and emotional consequences should a family member pass away without a will.

So don’t stall on your estate planning — the sooner you start the more confident you’ll feel about the future. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the estate planning process, be sure to consult with a financial professional! They can help guide you through the options and work with your tax and legal professionals to help build an estate plan that works for you.



1 The Guardian Study of Financial and Emotional Confidence, 2021

2 Some whole life polices do not have cash values in the first two years of the policy and don’t pay a dividend until the policy’s third year. Talk to your financial representative and refer to your individual whole life policy illustration for more information.

3 Policy benefits are reduced by any outstanding loan or loan interest and/or withdrawals. Dividends, if any, are affected by policy loans and loan interest. Withdrawals above the cost basis may result in taxable ordinary income. If the policy lapses, or is surrendered, any outstanding loans considered gain in the policy may be subject to ordinary income taxes. If the policy is a Modified Endowment Contract (MEC), loans are treated like withdrawals, but as gain first, subject to ordinary income taxes. If the policy owner is under 59 ½, any taxable withdrawal may also be subject to a 10% federal tax penalty.

4 All whole life insurance policy guarantees are subject to the timely payment of all required premiums and the claims paying ability of the issuing insurance company. Policy loans and withdrawals affect the guarantees by reducing the policy’s death benefit and cash values.


Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents and employees do not provide tax, legal, or accounting advice. Consult your tax, legal, or accounting professional regarding your individual situation.

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2022-147819 Exp. 12/2024 *Preapproved content*

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