Estate Planning Checklist

Nearly everyone has an estate. Your estate is considered to be everything you own – your home, vehicle, bank accounts, insurance, retirements, personal possessions, and more.

Regardless of what you’ve been told in the past, there’s not a certain monetary value you must have, or age you must be, in order to have an estate plan.

With that in mind, it’s time to make your estate plan, and here’s a checklist to help get you started.

Purpose of Estate Planning

The purpose of estate planning is to prepare a distribution plan for your assets once you pass away or if you become incapacitated. There are several legal documents that go into estate planning, so it’s advised to work with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Your estate plan should take into consideration what you want to happen to your property upon your death or incapacitation, the financial well-being of your family, the degree to which probate can be avoided, and how to eliminate or minimize estate taxes.

Estate Planning Checklist

Do you know how to get started with estate planning? Here’s an estate planning checklist to help get you started. Remember, there’s a lot more that can be included depending on your personal situation.

Identify Goals of creating your estate plan – Goals for estate planning are different for everyone.

Some of the most common estate planning goals include:

  • Creating a will
  • Making funeral arrangements
  • Providing for loved one
  • Avoiding probate
  • Minimizing taxes

Take Inventory - List the value of your home, cars, and other physical assets. If you want these assets to be automatically transferred to someone, you can make them a co-owner. This process can get complicated, which is why it’s best to have a lawyer help.

Identify beneficiaries – There are assets you can designate to people without having to give them ownership rights. This process is known as pay-on-death and is typically done with financial accounts.

Identify Guardians – Appoint someone you trust as the guardian of your children and your estate. This guardian can be the same person or different people. The key is to ensure it’s someone you trust will respect your wishes.

Do you want to make charitable contributions – One of the many reasons some people create an estate plan is to ensure they can still give to a charity or organization once they pass. If this is one of your wishes, be sure to add it to your estate planning checklist!

Do some beneficiaries have special needs? – If you have a beneficiary with special needs, it’s important to follow a few steps, such as:

  • Preparing a letter of intent that discusses the care of the family member with a disability.
  • Set up a Special Needs Trust
  • Select a trustee
  • Make a plan that leaves the court of out the equation
  • Talk with a lawyer to ensure you protect the disabled beneficiary in every way possible

Are you avoiding probate? – One of the biggest reasons for estate planning is to avoid probate. Ensure you do this by writing a living trust, naming beneficiaries, and working with a lawyer to ensure all paperwork is filled out and filed correctly.

Make a plan for if you become incapacitated – Do you have a power of attorney or do you know which type of power of attorney is best for your situation?

Visit an Estate Planning Attorney

Everyone has different financial situations, and it’s true, some individuals may not require a lawyer for estate planning. However, in most instances, you’re going to want a lawyer on your side to ensure your estate plans are comprehensive and accurately state your intentions.

Estate attorneys are experts in wills, trusts, estate taxes, and the local probate process. They know the tiniest of details on the paperwork that is required to properly fill out an estate plan. They can also help in unique situations such as:

  • Blended families
  • Special needs families
  • Receiving Medicare payments on someone’s behalf
  • Business succession

Costs for an estate plan vary widely depending on the documents you need and your lawyer’s fee. Most lawyers work on a per hour basis and charge an average between $250 and $350 for an in-depth estate plan.

When given the choice – and luckily, you do have a choice – you can have the final say over your estate and guardianship of your children. Work with an experienced lawyer to ensure your estate plan is properly prepared and to avoid guardianship issues.