Have you done everything you can to provide for your family after your death? You might not like to think about it, but you want everything for your family to go on as smoothly as possible after your death. You don’t want your family to worry about what property you own, whether you had a will, what bills need to be paid and more.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Set Your Estate Planning Goals
- Get Professional Assistance and Advice
- Take an Inventory and Value Your Estate
- Select an Executor
- Anticipate Future Health Care and Medical Needs
- Assess the Tax Consequences for Any of Your Estate Plan Options
- Execute Appropriate Legal Documents
- Provide Access to Digital Assets and Online Accounts
- Copy and Safely Store Your Documents
- Revise Any Documents Whenever Necessary
But how do you know when your estate plan is complete? What are the necessary parts of an effective estate plan that will accomplish the goals you have set for your long-term financial and medical needs? Which part of the plan should you do first?
We’ll help you address these questions and more your estate planning checklist.
1. Your Estate Planning Goals
First, you must know your goals. You may need to use different resources for transferring or preserving your assets. To establish your goals:
- Determine whether you or your spouse will need long-term healthcare.
- Decide whether you’ll need a steady source of income after you retire.
- Consider who depends on your support.
- Decide who should receive your property.
- Pick someone you want to handle your affairs after your death.
- Think about whether there is anyone you think should not have access to your money or property.
- Give thought to whether you want to make any charitable contributions.
2. Get Professional Assistance and Advice
Before you sign legal documents and dispose of property, decide whether you want to seek professional advice about completing your estate planning. This will depend on how comfortable you feel drafting your own documents and determining which resources you need.
Consider the following questions. If your answer to more than two of the questions is, “I don’t know,” you will probably want to make an appointment with an attorney or estate planner to understand the purpose of some of the documents you may need to consider in your estate plan.
- What is a mortgage?
- What is the purpose of a trust?
- What is a beneficiary?
- What is the responsibility of an executor?
- Who is the beneficiary of your life insurance?
- Do you have to pay taxes when you die?
- Do you own a safe deposit box?
- Who is your closest heir?
- Are you required to divide your estate evenly among your children?
- Once you have signed a will, can you ever revoke it?
If you could not answer at least three of these questions, that does not mean you should not have an estate plan. It simply indicates that there may be more options available to you for accomplishing your estate planning goals than you realize.
A big part of having an effective and comprehensive estate plan is making sure you use all the resources available to you for transferring your wealth effectively, according to your wishes, and as inexpensively as possible.
It may be wise to speak with a professional to learn what resources may be best for you to consider.
3. Take an Inventory and Value Your Estate
Once you know what you want to accomplish and the resources you can use to accomplish it, you should identify all the property you own and the value of each item. You will need to know the property you can transfer to someone else and the value of the transfer you are making.
Consider assets like:
- Real estate
- Business interests
- Jointly-owned accounts
Include whether you’ve acquired any debt in your inventory. Debt is simply an asset with a negative value, such as:
- Unpaid mortgages
- Outstanding loans
- Credit card balances
- Outstanding car payments
4. Select an Executor
Decide who you want to handle your estate when you die. This should be someone responsible who you believe will follow through on your wishes to distribute your property and settle your estate.
- Discuss the responsibilities with your candidate and the wishes you want him or her to carry out.
- Ask your candidate if he or she is willing to assume this responsibility and serve in this capacity.
- Discuss your choice of executor with your family members to be sure that they approve or at least will be able to work with the person you chose to carry out your wishes.
5. Anticipate Future Health Care and Medical Needs
Be sure to address common medical and healthcare decisions, even if you’re healthy now. Think through:
- Whether you’re financially prepared to cover the cost of a long-term disability or injury.
- How you would pay for long-term nursing care if needed.
- Whether you would want the use of resuscitative devices.
- Whether you want to be an organ donor.
- Who you would want to make your health care decisions if you were not able to make them.
- Whether there’s something specific you want to be done with your remains.
6. Assess the Tax Consequences for Any of Your Estate Plan Options
Although one particular estate planning instrument may be more advantageous for accomplishing specific goals within your plan, that device could result in significantly higher tax consequences than another device that, in the long term, might be a more beneficial option.
It’s important to know all the tax consequences of your choices, including the nature and amount of specific bequests to individuals, charitable institutions, or trusts. Not sure about the tax consequences of any of your decisions? Consult with a tax attorney or an accountant.
7. Execute Appropriate Legal Documents
Depending on your estate planning goals, you may need to execute one or all of these legal instruments:
- Last will and testament
- Power of attorney
- Health care directive
- Living trust
- End-of-life Instructions
- Pet trust
8. Provide Access to Digital Assets and Online Accounts
Do you store pertinent information or documents on your computer? If so, you should provide passwords to your executor or the person you want to access your accounts, including:
- Online bank accounts
- Investment accounts
- Social media accounts
- Any online accounts with active funds
9. Copy and Safely Store Your Documents
Make copies of any documents you execute.
- Provide the originals and a copy of each original to your attorney (or bank or trust company).
- Keep a copy of each document for yourself.
- Give a copy of each document to your executor.
- At least discuss your estate plan with your family.
If you choose not to give the originals of your documents to your attorney, bank, or trust company, you should preserve your documents in a fireproof safe or bank safe deposit box, if possible.
Be sure someone who interacts with you on a regular basis knows where you keep your will.
10. Revise Any Documents Whenever Necessary
There will be occasions when you will want to supplement, amend, or revoke documents you’ve already executed. You might:
- Want to change a beneficiary.
- Acquire or sell assets (including debt).
- Have children or adopt children.
- Get married or divorced.
Check and Double-Check
As your relationship and assets change, your estate plans also should change. You always can revoke or amend any of the legal documents you execute as your circumstances in life cause you to reflect on your financial and healthcare goals for yourself and your family.
There are almost an endless amount of options for you to transfer your property and experts who can help you understand, consider, and choose the instruments that are right for you.
If you've figured out your estate, you may be ready to take the next step and get a will. Look at the comparisons of the most popular will services and estate planning attorneys below.
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