Estate Planning Checklist

Estate planning is a critical part of life planning. Estate plans are made up of many parts, including wills and trusts, as well as any additional documents or information that will help beneficiaries carry out the requests of the benefactor. Use our in-depth Estate Planning Checklist to help you check off the important things you need when developing your plan.

Do you have a will? A will enables you to specify who you want to inherit your property and other assets. A will also enables you to name a guardian for your minor children. One key difference between a will and a living trust is when they take effect. A will takes effect when you die; a living trust takes effect when you execute it, and begins to operate when you transfer assets to it.

Do you have healthcare documents in place? Healthcare documents spell out your wishes for health care if you become unable to make medical decisions for yourself. They also authorize a person to make decisions on your behalf if that should prove necessary. These documents may include a living will, a power of attorney agreement, and a durable power of attorney agreement for healthcare.

Do you have financial documents in place? Certain financial documents can outline your financial wishes. If you become unable to make decisions for yourself, these financial documents can be structured to empower a person to make decisions on your behalf. These documents may include joint ownership, durable power of attorney, and living trusts.

Have you filed beneficiary forms? In some cases, naming a beneficiary for bank accounts and retirement plans makes these accounts “payable on death” to your beneficiaries. In other cases, you will need to fill out a “Payable on Death” form.

Do you have the right amount and type of life insurance? When was the last time you assessed your life insurance coverage? Have you compared the life insurance benefit with your financial obligations?

Have you taken steps to manage your federal estate tax? If you and your spouse have more than $5.45 million in assets (for 2016), you may want to consider taking steps to manage federal estate tax, which will be due at the second spouse’s death. Fast Fact: Although estate taxes could claim a sizable portion of your legacy, they make up less than one percent of total federal revenue.
Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2016

Have you taken steps to protect your business? Do you have a succession plan? If you own a business with others, you may also want to consider a buyout agreement.

Have you created a letter of instruction? A letter of instruction is a non-legal document that outlines your wishes. A strong, well-written letter may save your heirs time, effort, and expense as they administer your estate.

Will your heirs be able to locate your critical documents? Your heirs will need access to the specific documents you have created to manage your estate. These documents may include:

  • Your will
  • Trust documents
  • Life insurance policies
  • Deeds to any real estate, and certificates for stocks, bonds, annuities
  • Information on your bank accounts, mutual funds, and safe deposit boxes
  • Information on your retirement plans, 401(k) accounts, or IRAs
  • Information on any debts you have: credit cards, mortgages and loans, utilities, and unpaid taxes
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