First Steps in Estate Planning

What is the vision for your woods?

When it comes to a complex process like estate planning, it can be hard to know where to begin. But a few basic steps can help you ease into the process.

Identify your vision. Your woods hold many different values, from the financial benefits they provide to the memories and dreams you associate with them. Take time to think through what you value about your woods, and to consider which of those values you’d like to see preserved for future generations. How would you like your land to be cared for after you’re gone?

Consider other visions too. It’s up to you to decide whether you’d like to involve your family in planning for the future of your woods. If you would, make a list of everyone who should be included, and honestly consider each person’s ability and willingness to have a role in your forest’s future. Then arrange a family meeting (link to the “Sharing Your Plans with your Family” section) in which you can exchange ideas about the future of your family land. Make note of family members’ wishes and any questions or information needs that come up.

Gather information. Knowing as much as you can about your land will aid your planning, your discussions with your family, and any meetings with estate planning professionals. Take time to pull together important documents, such as your deed and mortgage documentation, current and historical maps, management plans, and plot and/or survey plans.

Get more acquainted with your taxes. Federal and state estate taxes, gift taxes, capital gains taxes, federal income taxes and property taxes can all come into play when planning for your forest’s future. Learn as much as you can about how these taxes could affect you and your family, and consult with a tax attorney or certified public accountant if you have questions.

Put it in writing. Set up a will or other legal document that records how you’d like your assets to be distributed when you die. If you already have such a document in place, take another look at it to see if it includes your wishes about your land. If it doesn’t suit those needs, make sure to change it so that it reflects your vision for your family forest. That way, there will be no confusion about how you would like your land to be kept and cared for.

Now that you’ve eased into the process, it’s time to get started with your estate planning journey.

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