Everyone should have an estate plan—we are have at least some possessions to pass on—yet most people will put off creating an estate plan as long as possible. It’s easy to understand why, but the fact is that while it’s never too early to make an estate plan, someday, it will be too late. If you’re reading this, the issue is already on your mind. So here’s a must-have estate planning checklist to help you get started.
1. Make an Inventory of Your Assets
The first step in any estate plan is determining what makes up your estate. Once you sit down and start making a list, you may be surprised by how many assets you have: your home, furniture, vehicles, collectibles, insurance policy, etc. So don’t worry if you can’t create a comprehensive list on the first go; think of it as a working document you can add to as new things occur.
Take special care to identify property that other people might not know. For example, cryptocurrency can easily be lost when a USB drive is tossed into the trash. Include information on where these assets are located, passwords, etc.
2. Decide Where Your Property Should Go
Once you know what your estate consists of, think about who you’d like to receive that property after you’re gone. For some people, it is simple; they want their surviving spouse to be their sole beneficiary or have the estate liquidated and divided equally among their children. Others may wish for a specific property to go to certain people or to give money to a charity.
It would also be beneficial to start thinking about how you want to transfer the property or plan for specific scenarios at this stage. For example, if you have minor children, consider what will happen if you die before or after they reach adulthood. Or perhaps your spouse is not the biological parent of your children, and you want them to have continued use of your home during their lifetime and then pass it to your children.
3. Consider What Happens If You’re Incapacitated
If you are incapacitated, someone will likely need to make decisions on your behalf. For example, if you are severely injured in a car accident, someone may have to make financial decisions for you or even decide whether to continue life support. Thinking about these scenarios in advance can relieve the burden on your loved ones and ensure your wishes are respected.
4. Draft the Documents
After having defined your estate and decided what to do with it, it’s time to create the necessary documents. A wide variety of legal instruments are available to accomplish virtually any estate planning goal. For some, this may consist only of a simple will and perhaps a medical directive. Others may require more complicated measures, such as setting up a trust. You may already have some assets, such as insurance policies or retirement plans with named beneficiaries; verify that those beneficiaries match your current wishes.
At this stage you should also consider who you would like to be appointed as executor of your estate. This person will have a lot of responsibility—e.g., selling your property to distribute the proceeds—so choose someone you trust who is up to the task. A judge will decide who to appoint if you don’t name an executor.
5. Review Your Plan Regularly
An estate plan created when you were 30 years old may not be sufficient when you are 50. Periodically revisit your estate plan to see if your inventory of assets is up to date or if you need to change your beneficiaries. This is especially important after significant life changes, such as divorce.
Before You Begin, Speak to an Attorney
Estate planning is about peace of mind. You want to know that your loved ones are taken care of and that your property goes where it should. However, doing it on your own presents risks because if the documents are not prepared correctly, they may be challenged in court. Also, you may miss out on simple ways to minimize your estate’s tax liability.
Talking to one of our experienced estate attorneys will simplify the entire process and ease your mind. We can help you evaluate your estate and create a comprehensive plan that covers your needs. Contact our office to set up an appointment.