Most people know what a final will is, but many don’t think of it in its appropriate context, as one step of an entire estate plan. What is truly unfortunate, is that many people don’t realize what happens if they die without an estate plan. These considerations are even more important for business owners because of the broad range of options available to them to plan an efficient succession of their business and personal estate.

Estate plan advisors can help guide you through most uncertainties and discomforts of planning for the inevitable, and can help you come up with solutions to the challenges your estate may face. Estate plan advisors for business owners should include financial planners, accountants, lawyers, and business valuators when appropriate.

The primary importance of an estate plan is to help protect your family from the burden of making difficult decisions about your estate while still grieving. It is also important to keep in mind that if you die without a final will, the law assumes you have not made beneficiary choices, or tax elections, leaving your surviving family members to make those decisions without any certainty that they have been left the resources they need to do so.

To make sure your surviving family members have the resources they need after your passing, you have to determine your goals for your estate and succession plan. For example, for your estate, would you like to leave specific items to people, or let everything be sold to pass money onto your heirs? Would you like to make gifts during your lifetime, or is it more appropriate to keep all of your assets throughout your life? Is there anyone that you would like your estate to provide for who can’t handle money, making a trust an appropriate tool?

For your business succession, you will need to consider how long you intend to run your business, in what capacity, and whether you intend to wind-up the business or keep it going. If it’s kept going, considerations will be whether ownership and control stays in your family, if control should pass to professional managers, or if the business should be sold for the best price? If you choose to sell your business during your life, you will have to consider whether you want to maintain a corporation or use your final will to pass your wealth to your family. A business owner may also want to consider an estate freeze during their lifetime to “freeze” the value of their estate at one time, to enhance tax planning.

Just as you should consider the plans of family members when you prepare your own estate plan, a business owner will need to consider the estate and succession plans of the co-owners of their business. Share holder’s agreements and other aspects of co-owned businesses often have an effect on each owner’s estate and succession planning.

Beyond the final will, the other important documents in an estate plan are the powers of attorney, to ensure that someone can act in your place, if you cannot do so for yourself during your lifetime. Similar plans should be made for business owners so that they have a contingency plan to continue their business, if they become unable to do so during their lifetime.

Once an estate or succession plan is made, it should be shared with your executors, family members, and co-owners or managers of your business. Secrecy and surprises in either plan can be disastrous. Most importantly, remember that estate planning is an ongoing process that will change throughout your life, to meet the needs of your life. Reviewing an estate or succession plan every now and again is just another part in the success of the plans.