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25 Steps for Estate Planning

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25 Steps for Estate Planning

Estate planning doesn’t have to be a grim affair. This 25-step checklist will make it easier for your family to settle your affairs after your passing. Even if you already have a will or trust in place, there may be additional steps you can take to give your family the peace of mind they need in the days after your death.

Assemble Necessary Information

  1. Itemize Inventory

Before you write out your will, take note of the material things you own. These may include:

  • Property
  • Physical investments
  • Precious belongings like jewelry or art
  • Expensive at-home equipment

It’s in your best interest to create an inventory of your belongings in an electronic spreadsheet, but you can also work with your family members to create a physical copy.

Make sure you share the finished copy of your inventory with your executor.

  1. Itemize Non-Physical Assets

You can also create a separate inventory detailing your intangible investments, including your:

  • IRA
  • 401k
  • Life insurance policy
  • Trusts

Once again, share this document with your executor. You can also keep an additional physical copy with your tax returns and any documents regarding your insurance policies.

  1. Assemble Insurance Policies

Regarding your insurance policies, print out all information relevant to your life insurance, home/renters insurance, car insurance, and related coverage. It’s in your best interest to keep this information in a fire-safe or at a bank.

Your executor can receive instructions on accessing these documents if they don’t already have copies on hand.

  1. Note List of Debts

There’s a chance you’ll leave behind debts upon your passing. These can range from credit card debts to essential mortgage debts to unanticipated medical expenses.

You can work with trusted family members to take account of these debts. Your family can then address those expenses as painlessly and simply as possible.

  1. Make a Membership List

If you’re a member of an organization that offers life insurance benefits at no additional cost to you or your loved ones, note those institutions among your documents. Your loved ones may have the right to collect additional benefits after passing.

  1. Gather Titles and Deeds of Property

While creating an inventory of your belongings, ensure that you produce any related proprietorial documents and include them in your estate planning kit. These documents can include vehicle titles and deeds of property.

You may want to retitle any relevant properties if you have a trust in place, so that said property falls under the trust’s protection at the time of your death.

  1. Gather Proof of Identity Documents

You can also find the original copies of your social security card, birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce certificate, and any discharge papers. Consider making copies of relevant documents and storing them in a fire-safe or bank box.

Again, make sure your executor knows how to access these documents or comes into possession of relevant copies.

  1. List Digital Logins and Passwords

In this increasingly digital age, your death may see you leave behind a litany of online accounts. With this in mind, list your social media accounts, financial accounts, email addresses, and passwords. You could also invest in terabyte storage blocks so you can make copies of any pictures or relevant documents you may have stored on your computer(s).

Manage and Review Finances

  1. Consolidate Your Finances

If possible, ensure you can transfer your finances to a single bank or create a paper trail that your loved ones can later follow to consolidate your finances. You want to make it easy for your executor to distribute your applicable finances upon your passing.

  1. Review Insurance Beneficiaries

Similarly, double-check your insurance beneficiaries and take the time to add any parties you want to benefit from your chosen protections.

  1. Review Retirement Account Beneficiaries

The beneficiaries you name in your retirement account will receive the benefits before anyone noted in your will. Make sure you’ve named the appropriate beneficiaries and add those parties you want to be protected. You can also remove certain parties from your retirement account after you first establish that account.

  1. Prepare for Estate Tax Obligations

While you may not have the opportunity to get ahead of your loved ones’ tax obligations, you can work with a personal executor to prepare your loved ones for your state’s specific estate and inheritance taxes. You can also note any federal laws that might impact your loved ones’ inheritances.

  1. Take Advantage of College Funding Accounts

If you want to create a college fund for any children or grandchildren, you can establish a 529 account during estate planning. Establishing a 529 account comes with tax advantages you can discuss with an accountant or an estate planning attorney, depending on your circumstances.

Decide on Your Plan

  1. Talk With an Estate Attorney

Between the emotional stress and the sheer number of documents you need to establish a postmortem action plan, you may find you need a hand planning your estate. You can work with an estate attorney to gather the necessary documents and establish the appropriate support nets for your family.

  1. Choose an Executor or Administrator of Your Estate

Most estate planning attorneys prompt you to elect a personal estate executor when you first draft your will. If you have not elected this individual at this point, you must do so.

Your executor should be someone you trust to be responsible with your loved one’s feelings and your estate. Choosing an executor who is financially stable and mentally fit is also advisable.

  1. Assign Transfer on Death Designation

When you take the time to assign a transfer of your accounts upon the designation of your death — provided you can do so — you can prevent your loved ones from waiting through a lengthy probate process to take control of your assets.

You can work with an aide to connect with the relevant institutions and ensure your accounts are handled correctly. You have the right to ease the transference of your IRAs, retirement funds, 401ks, and insurance policies in addition to your bank accounts.

  1. Guardians for Children and Pets

Most people don’t forget to declare a guardian for their children in the event of their death. If there’s a specific party you want to watch over your loved ones — including your pets — you need to declare as such in your will.

You can connect with an estate planning attorney if you need to modify an existing will to account for a new family member or pet under your guardianship.

Complete Important Documents

  1. Last Will and Testament

Your last will and testament identifies your executor, giving them your instructions regarding how you want your property to be distributed. This document must be witnessed and notarized, ensuring you were of sound mind when you distributed control over your estate.

  1. Living Trust

You can use a living trust to distribute a portion of your estate to a specific designee. Living trusts come with explicit instructions about how portions of your estate should be distributed upon your passing.

You can choose to create either a revocable or irrevocable trust.

You retain control over a revocable trust until your death.

An irrevocable trust technically owns itself and thus places less of a taxable burden upon its recipient.

  1. Living Will

A living will specifies your desired actions in the event that you can no longer make medical decisions for yourself. You can also use a living will to issue “do not resuscitate” orders.

  1. Power of Attorney

The power of attorney title determines who wields control over your estate and affairs if you can no longer do so due to your death or a severe injury.

  1. Statement of Wishes

You can include a statement of wishes along with your will, but it’s not an essential document. Instead, it’s a statement of wishes outlining what you would like your loved ones to do upon your passing regarding your funeral arrangements and additional postmortem care. You can also use a statement of wishes to elaborate on decisions made in your will.

Updating and Managing Your Estate Plan

  1. Store Documents in a Safe and Accessible Place

You must store your postmortem documents in a location safe from environmental harm and foul play. It’s best to store multiple copies of essential documents in a fire-safe or bank box.

  1. Make Copies of Your Documents

Having multiple copies of your postmortem documents is always a good idea. You can create physical copies of your estate plans to divide among the relevant parties. You can also make digital copies of these documents to store in the Cloud or on a personal storage drive.

If necessary, you can request that your executor distribute access to these documents to the relevant parties upon your death.

  1. Re-assess Your Plan

There is always a chance your plans for the future may change after you’ve assembled your estate planning documents. With that in mind, make sure you revisit your documents after significant life changes, such as marriage, divorce, and the birth of a child.

You can also revisit your plan if the person you named as your executor or a beneficiary passes away. An estate planning attorney can help you rework your plan upon your request.


Source: The Law Offices of Travis R. Walker, P.A.


Categories: Emergency Planning