Getting Started with Estate Planning

Your woods are more than just trees.

Once you have gathered the information you need and identified your vision for the future, you’ll need to craft an actual plan and put it into action.

First, you’ll need to figure out what you have. Take stock of your land and other assets and estimate the value of your estate. That means considering how many acres you have, what resources they hold, and how much they are worth, along with bank and retirement accounts and any other personal property. In some cases, you may need to seek out an appraisal, which is a professional estimate or opinion of the value of your assets.

Next, you’ll need to establish and share your vision for the future. With a more detailed inventory of your land and assets, revisit your goals and dreams for the future of your land. Think in more specific terms about what you want to happen to these assets, and whether you want to sell your land, donate part or all of it, divide it among heirs or leave it to one heir, etc. You will also have to decide whether the land will be transferred through your will or by creating a trust. Once you are ready, and if it’s right for your situation, expand this process to include the rest of your family by sharing your vision and asking for theirs.

Ask for help. Sorting out the details of your estate planning—especially the tax and legal issues that can come up—is complex, and it often requires specialized knowledge when land is part of your legacy. There are many highly knowledgeable, trained professionals who can help. At any point in the process, seek out assistance if you need it.

Create and carry out your plan. You’ve now determined what you have in terms of land and assets, how you’d like them to be cared for after your death, and who will own them and make decisions about them. With the help of a professional, draft a set of legal documents to record these decisions and support your plan. Then, set up a calendar to help you track your progress on implementing your plan.

To give yourself the best chance at successful estate planning, don’t go it alone. Working with professionals who understand the legal, financial, forest management and conservation issues involved in planning for your woods and finding the appropriate tools to protect your plans can make your journey easier and your planning more effective

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