Whether you are approaching retirement or thinking about how to protect your young family’s future, every family can benefit from a comprehensive estate plan. One of the most effective tools you can use to help you prior to your estate planning consultation is an estate planning checklist.
Your estate planning attorney can help you create an estate planning checklist that will help you to analyze your goals, understand your estate planning needs, and decide how best to protect your family’s future.
Take an Inventory of your Estate The first part of any estate planning checklist is to take an inventory of your estate. No matter how modest your means, everyone has an estate. Taking an inventory of your estate simply means creating a list of the things that you own. Your estate inventory should include your home, cars, and jewelry, as well as bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, and insurance policies. You should also create a list of debts, such as a mortgage, car loans, and student debt. Taken together, this inventory will create a picture of your estate and form the basis from which you and your attorney can analyze your estate planning needs and create a plan that will protect your assets and help you plan for your future.
You should also create a list of all of your important documents, and make sure a trusted family member or your attorney knows where to find them. This may include:
Life insurance policies
Birth and adoption records
Real estate deeds
Stocks, bonds, and mutual funds
Contact information for your financial planner (if you have one), tax professional, and your estate planning lawyer
Create an Estate Planning Checklist of Documents Once you have created your estate inventory, the next step is to work with your attorney to determine what estate planning documents you will need. Your estate planning checklist will ensure that you can protect your assets, distribute wealth, and offer you control over end-of-life decisions.
As you study your estate planning goals, important questions to consider are the extent to which you want to avoid probate, and whether your family has any unique estate planning needs that must be addressed.
If you are interested in avoiding probate, you will need to include a Trust as part of your estate planning checklist.
A Trust can also be a useful estate planning tool if you have unique family needs, such as a minor child, a child with special needs, or if you do not want your beneficiaries to inherit assets outright and would prefer that they receive periodic disbursements for their health, maintenance, and education.
Your attorney will also offer advice on additional estate planning documents, including a pour-over will, power of attorney for financial matters, power of attorney for health care, living will (also called advanced directive), and nomination of guardian. These documents should be included in almost every estate plan as they provide you with control near the end of your life or when you are unable to make medical or financial decisions on your own.
Choosing a Personal Representative Once you know the documents that should be included in your estate plan, you should consider who will serve as your trustee, personal representative, and agent. When choosing your representative, you will want to choose someone who is organized, has a basic understanding of finances, and is someone you trust. The personal representative of your estate is named in your Will and will oversee the distribution of your estate. Similarly, if you choose to include a Trust as part of your estate plan, the trustee will oversee the distribution of Trust assets. You will also need to choose someone who will serve as your agent. You will name this person in your power of attorney for health care and power of attorney for financial matters, as well as in your living will.
You do not need to choose the same person to serve as your agent under your healthcare power of attorney and your property (financial) power of attorney. They can be different people.
When choosing someone to act as your agent under your financial power of attorney, you should once again consider someone who has a basic understanding of finance and who you trust to make decisions on your behalf.
When choosing someone to serve as your agent under your health care power of attorney, consider choosing someone who has some medical knowledge, and who shares similar values. This is particularly important, because your health care power of attorney agent may be involved in making decisions about your medical care and other end-of-life decisions.
Additional Estate Planning Considerations In addition to basic estate planning documents, you may also