And to be well-thought-out means that it doesn’t just happen. You have to take steps to create the plan. The plan has to be specific to your estate and your situation, so when you meet with a financial planner or certified elder-law attorney to discuss the plan, you should have our estate pretty much laid out.
Once you do that, you then have to make sure you have all the documents you could possibly need to secure every bit of that estate without the need for a probate judge.
Here is a basic estate planning checklist for doing your estate plan:
- First, take inventory. This involves looking over everything you have that is valued at $100 or more. Look through your house and mark down everything of value – power tools, jewelry, televisions, vehicles, the house itself. Next, look through your various money accounts – savings, checking, CDs, IRAs and the like. Next, make notes of all your insurance policies – medical, home, auto, life, etc. Make note of any and all beneficiaries of these policies and accounts, as well as any death benefits and premiums.
- Find a professional. This work can’t be done by yourself, unless you are a professional planner – and even then, your emotional or sentimental side may cloud your judgement. It’s always a good idea to find a quality financial planner or a certified elder-law attorney (CELA designation) to take your inventory and work with you to develop all the legal documents you need.
- The will. This is probably the most important instrument in your estate plan, and it sets the tone for everything else. Be as specific as you can in terms of who gets your assets upon your death, and who would be the guardian for your children if they are under age 18. Know that this can and should always be updated every few years or as needed when something in your life changes (spouse dies, you get divorced, a child dies, you have a falling out with a family member, etc.).
- A living trust. If done correctly, a living trust can be a great way for your assets to be transferred to family without the hassle of probate.
- Advance Health Care Directive. This is actually two documents, a living will and a power of attorney for health care. These help you with medical decisions if you are unable to make them for yourself due to physical or mental incapacity. You can designate a person to make these decisions for you; and it’s a good idea to let this person know what you want before you make the document.
- Financial power of attorney. Similar to the healthcare directive, a financial power of attorney allows you to designate a person to handle your financial affairs should you become physically or mentally unable to make those decisions yourself.
- If you don’t have beneficiaries named on any accounts, or if you need to change them, this is a good time to do that. It’s a good idea to have your beneficiary forms match with your will, because in the case of confusion, the beneficiary form will prevail in most cases.
- Your children’s property. If your children are under 18, name a person to manage any inheritances or money from your estate. The person you designate as guardian in your will could be this person if you want. You can always change this once all your children reach adulthood.
- Life Insurance? Not everyone needs it, but it could be good if you may have substantial debt r if you own a home or have young children.
- Estate taxes. As long as your estate is not more than $5 million, you won’t have to pay estate taxes. Your estate planner can help you determine your taxable worth and help you with strategies to ensure you don’t get hit with the death tax.
- Pay for the funeral. You could set up an account that is payable on death, which has enough money to cover expenses regarding funeral, burial, memorial services and the like.
- Final wishes. Let your loved ones know if you are willing to donate organs and if you want a burial or cremation. Not securing these details will cause headaches and will delay the mourning.
- Business moves. If you own your own business, have a succession plan in place. If you are part of a partnership, have a buyout plan or some other arrangement once a partner passes.
- Safe storage. Once you have all your documents, make copies. Have a copy in a safe deposit box or safe place in your home where spouses or children can access it when needed. Also have a copy to your executor and any legal guardians; and of course, to your estate planner. Keep a copy for yourself as well, so you can remember he forms and when it is time to update them.
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