(StatePoint) You may worry about what will happen to your house and property when you’re no longer willing or able to care for it -- particularly if you own property that has special meaning to you, such as a family home or woodlands. With so many options on the table, it’s important to research the facts, make important decisions and get paperwork started.
When it comes to estate planning, here are some things to consider:
Ask yourself, “is my property an asset or an heirloom?” If it’s not important for you to keep your land in the family, you must determine whether you want to sell it or give it away to charity. Both options have important financial and tax benefits and drawbacks. Ask an estate planner or tax advisor about them.
Find an Estate Planner
Start by asking people you trust for recommendations. Once you have a list of names, conduct informal interviews. Ask questions that can help ensure that a planner’s interests and skills fit your needs before you commit to working together.
“Look for someone with significant experience particularly with land assets and families, who has up-to-date knowledge of the field and relevant laws, and possesses expertise in woodland or has a forestry background,” says Caroline Kuebler, Outreach Manager of the American Tree Farm System, a network of 82,000 family forest owners sustainably managing 24 million acres of woodlands.
Your plan for your property’s future won’t work if your family can’t or isn’t willing to put it into action. Kuebler, an expert on family forest outreach, recommends getting them involved if you plan to pass your land on to them.
“If your family lacks a connection to your land, it can lead to conflict when planning for the future,” says Kuebler. “Talk to your family about your experiences on your land. Go on a hike. The more you camp, fish, hunt, work and play on the property together, the more they’ll appreciate and value it.”
Take advantage of free online tools that can help your family manage your land and plan for its future. For example, My Land Plan`s mapping tool can be used to mark out features on your land, including areas that are special to you and your family. The site also features a journal, which can be used to capture family memories, upload photos, record wildlife sightings and more.
In the property history section, you can document how you first acquired your land. Such tools can be a great way to introduce the next generation to your land and what makes it so important to you.
The non-profit website My Land Plan also contains a wealth of information on options for your land, such as conservation agreements and trusts. To learn more or sign up for a free account, visit www.MyLandPlan.org.
Estate planning is complex. So don’t assume that it can wait. Your family can only carry out your wishes if you’ve thought them through and shared them.
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