Death can be a pretty dreary conversation topic. Most of us don’t like to think about what will happen when we are no longer on this earth, much less plan for it! However, planning can give you peace of mind and ensure that you have relieved your loved ones of the burden of tackling a disorganized estate.
Your Estate Planning Checklist
Itemize your important information
Before you start your estate plan, it is a good idea to have an idea of what is in your estate. Sit down and make a list of all of your assets. This would include bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance, real estate, vehicles, stock, bonds, business interests, etc. If you work with a financial planner or advisor, they can be helpful to assemble this list. Frequently when working with an estate planning attorney, the attorney will provide you with a questionnaire to organize this information. You may be surprised at how much you have once you put it all down in one place!
Make it legal
Once you know what you have, you should think about where you would want your property to go following your death. It’s a good idea to go through this process before meeting with an attorney. During your meeting, the attorney can recommend specific documents to enable you to make your wishes legally binding after your death. They will also be able to discuss the pros and cons of different estate planning tools, such as a Will, Trust, or other methods. These recommendations should be tailored to your specific situation. The attorney can use their experience administering estates to ensure that your wishes are clearly outlined in a way that will save costs to pass your assets to your heirs.
Check your beneficiary designations
Following the execution of your estate planning documents, it is important to make sure that your plan will work the way you have envisioned. You should be careful to review the titling on all your property to ensure it will pass according to your Will or Trust. Assets naming beneficiary designations will pass according to the beneficiary named on the account. Due to this, if you have created a trust, you should ensure the accounts are titled to the trust or name the trust as a beneficiary. A good estate planning attorney will be able to provide you with guidance in this process so you can properly make the required changes.
Don’t forget incapacity
Your Will only governs your property after your death. If you are physically or mentally incapacitated, you will need to ensure that you have documents to plan for those circumstances. A power of attorney can name someone who can make financial decisions on your behalf. A health care directive can name someone to make healthcare decisions for you. Both of these documents can save your family the trouble of needing to petition a court to be appointed as your guardian or conservator should you be incapacitated.
Don’t set it and forget it
There is no estate plan that can be created which will last your entire life. Your assets will change as time goes by, as will your family situation and ultimately your goals. It is important to ensure that you don’t take your estate plan and put it in a filing cabinet, only to be opened after your death. A good reminder for reviewing your estate plan is to check it every time there is a presidential election. Every four years pull your documents out and sit down to review if they are still in line with your wishes. If you have had any of the five “D’s” happen: death in the family, diagnosis with long-term health condition, divorce, decline in health, or departure to a new state you should have your estate plan reviewed by your attorney.