Estate Planning Checklist

Most people think of estate planning in one of two ways:

  1. As just creating a simple Will; or
  2. Unnecessary because they don't have very many assets.

But estate planning is much more than just creating a Will. Furthermore, most people have more to protect than they think, and even the simplest estate can benefit from estate planning.

The Goal of Estate Planning

The overall goal of estate planning is twofold:

  1. To provide for your loved ones during times when you are incapable of doing so (due to injury or illness), and after you pass away; and
  2. To ensure that your assets are distributed to your heirs and beneficiaries in a timely manner and according to your wishes.

Some considerations that should be given attention during the estate planning process are as follows:

Your Own Welfare

The first goal of estate planning is to provide for yourself for as long as you live. Often a financial planner will help with this aspect of estate planning.

  • Do you have disability insurance?
  • Do you have a retirement plan?
  • How are your assets structured?
  • Do you have liquidity?

Always consider your own welfare before you start giving it away.

Your Spouse's Welfare

If you are married or in a relationship, your estate plan will consider the survivor. Specific provisions for the survivor will depend on your relationship and asset structure.

If you are considering marriage or remarriage, a premarital agreement may be a consideration for you. Such agreements have become common to help determine what happens when spouses divorce or when one of them dies.

The Well-being of Your Minor Children

Your next estate planning consideration will be how to provide for your minor children if you have them. You will want to consider who will be their guardian, as well as, whether the same person should also have control over any money you leave for the children. Many people choose to separate guardianship and conservatorship. For people with children from previous marriages, it is usually very important that provisions are made to ensure that those children are not disinherited.

The Well-being of Loved Ones with Special Needs

If you have a loved one with special needs (minor or adult), planning for their well-being, during your life and after, may be important to you. There are a variety of estate planning strategies that you can use to provide for a loved one with special needs during your lifetime and after you pass away.

Your Business Interests

If you are the owner of a family business, a business succession plan may be a factor in your estate plan. Who will continue the business if something were to happen to you? How will interest in a business that you are a part of be transferred to your loved ones after you pass away?

Taxes

An estate plan should also consider taxes of various kinds, including both federal and state estate and inheritance taxes. This includes income tax planning strategies to maximize your ability to accumulate wealth.

Asset Protection

An estate plan should consider whether you have a particular need for asset protection planning. There are a variety of strategies to help you protect and preserve your wealth from creditors, lawsuits, claims, divorce, and the cost of nursing home care.

Creating an Estate planning Checklist

To achieve your estate planning goals, it may be helpful to create a checklist of documents that should be included in your estate plan. But before starting your estate planning checklist, you should first complete an inventory of all of your assets.

Your inventory of assets may include your bank accounts, 401k accounts, and other retirement accounts. It should also include your personal property, real estate, investment accounts, business interests, and inheritances received.

Then, regardless of your age, health, and wealth, you should consult with an experienced attorney who can assist you with putting together an estate plan that includes a combination of the following documents:

  • A Will - a Will allows you to identify the people or organizations that will receive your assets after you die. It also enables you to appoint a guardian for your minor children and an executor to manage the dispensation of your estate. If you die without a Will, or other estate planning documents in place, your estate will be distributed by rule of law, which can result in your loved ones not getting what you intend for them to receive.

  • A Durable Power of Attorney for Finances - this will allow you to designate someone who you trust to manage your financial affairs when you are unavailable or incapable of doing so yourself. A Durable Power of Attorney for Finances will enable your agent to do things, such as pay your bills, manage your banking and investments, and file your taxes.

  • A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care & A Living Will - these documents spell out your preferences for medical treatment should you become unable to express them yourself, and to appoint an agent to make health care decisions on your behalf.

  • A Living Trust - a living trust is an estate planning document that allows you to place assets into a trust while you are alive and well, and then have those assets bypass probate and be transferred to designated beneficiaries after you pass away.

An Experienced Estate Planning Attorney Can Help

An estate planning attorney can help you define your estate planning goals and identify the particular estate planning documents that should be put in place to achieve those goals. Consider reaching out to an experienced estate planning attorney to make sure that you have considered everything that is important to consider when creating your estate plan.