Published on: October 14, 2020 Last modified: November 20, 2020

Your Vital Estate Planning Checklist: Everything You Need to Know

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    An estate planning checklist is an ideal way to evaluate which documents are essential to you and how to tailor your plan to meet your needs. Estate planning is generally not only crucial for your peace of mind, but also makes things as easy as possible for your heirs when you pass on. 

    This checklist will go over everything you need to keep in mind when planning what happens to your estate, and provide a basic understanding of what goes into the process.

    What is an Estate and What is Estate Planning 

    An estate is anything that comprises the net worth of an individual, and can include real estate, land, possessions, cash, financial securities, and other assets in which a person has a controlling interest. In comparison, estate planning is the act of managing the inheritance and division of those assets.

    man considering estate planning checklist for his will

    When an individual draws up an estate plan, he or she typically needs to consider what happens in the event of a disability or death — specifically what happens to your property when you die, the degree to which probate can be avoided, how to minimize or eliminate estate taxes, and the financial well-being of your family. There’s a lot that goes into that decision, making a checklist helpful to the process.

    Important Estate Planning Terms Defined 

    Before you can dive into the estate planning process, you need to understand some key estate-related terminology:

    • Asset Ownership
      Asset ownership is also known as an interest document. This legal document acts as evidence of your assets such as real estate, intellectual property rights, and motor vehicles, among myriad other line items.
    • Designated Beneficiary
      This is someone named on a life insurance policy or financial account as the recipient of all the assets in the event of the account holder’s death.
    • Last Will and Testament
      This legal document allows you to control how your estate will be distributed to your loved ones when you pass away.
    • Living Will
      This legal document tells others, such as family members, what your wishes are about end-of-life medical treatments. It goes into detail about medications and procedures you want or do not want to prolong your life if you cannot talk to a doctor.
    • Living Trust
      A living trust is also known as a revocable living trust. This is a legal document that puts your assets — including your bank accounts, real estate, investments, valuable personal property, and vehicles — in a trust for your benefit during your lifetime. It also indicates where you would like these things to go upon your death.
    • Power of Attorney
      This legal document gives one individual (the attorney-in-fact or the agent) the power to act for another individual (the principal). This agent can have limited or broad legal authority to make decisions about the principal’s finances, medical care, or property.
    • Statement of Desires
      This is not a legally binding document, but it does give valuable guidance to your executor. It includes information needed to clearly identify and locate your insurance policies, credit cards, vehicle loans, financial documents, and mortgages, and provides contact information for close friends and relatives that need to be notified of your passing, where assets are located, and instructions regarding your burial desire. 

    These terms are not all-encompassing of what you need to know before preparing an estate plan. They will provide you with a good understanding of the basic language involved, however, and your legal representative can help with any others that come up in the process.

    Will Estate Planning Checklist

    Estate planning is more than just drafting a will. It requires thorough planning of all your assets and making sure they transfer to the people you wish to receive them as smoothly as possible. 

    tax attorney working with client on estate planning checklist

    To cover all of your bases, consider the following steps while estate planning:

    1. Itemize the Inventory
      Go through everything inside and outside your home and make a list of all the necessary and valuable items in your life. Include intangible assets such as IRAs, bank accounts, life insurance policies, brokerage accounts, and health care policies.
    2. List of Debts
      Make a separate list for obligations you may have, such as open credit cards.
    3. Membership List
      Create a list of all the organizations you belong to, including professional accreditation associations, college alumni groups, or veteran’s associations.
    4. Make Copies
      When all your lists are finished, make three copies of each. Ensure that each is signed and dated. Give one copy to your estate administrator, one to your spouse if you are married, and place one in a safe deposit box.
    5. Update Insurance and Retirement Accounts
      Your life insurance, annuities, and retirement accounts will pass directly to the beneficiaries you indicated. That is why you need to contact all the companies which maintain your policies to ensure your beneficiary designations are up-to-date.
    6. Assign Transfer on Your Death Designations
      Certain assets such as CDs, individual brokerage accounts, and bank savings can be set up to have a transfer on death designation. This lets beneficiaries receive assets without going through the probable process.
    7. Choose an Estate Administrator
      Make sure your executor or administrator is responsible and in a good mental state to make decisions. This individual will be tasked with administering your will when you pass.
    8. Draft a Will
      This legal document is a rulebook for the distribution of your assets. It can not only name a guardian for your minor children, but also allow you to leave assets to charitable organizations of your choosing.
    9. Review Your Documents and Copy the Administrator
      Review your will for updates every two years and after any life-changing events. Once the will is finalized, witnessed, notarized, and signed, make sure the estate administrator gets a copy, and place a copy in a safe place.
    10. Visit an Estate Planning Attorney
      Even if you think you covered all your bases, it is a good idea to talk to professionals about your will, health care directives, the probate process, and any retirement plans you may have. 

    Estate Planning Checklist — How To Do it Right

    The estate planning process is not as easy as many people expect, and there are many important documents you need to review and numerous legal nuances to understand. It’s important to ensure this process is done right, though, and that means you need to have a trusted legal partner who can walk you through the proper steps. 

    Contact Silver Tax Group today and speak with an expert about any estate planning checklist questions you might have.

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