Estate Planning Checklist: Important Steps and Must Dos

No matter how modest or large your estate is, everyone needs to create an estate plan. By not preparing an estate plan the task of settling affairs becomes much more complicated.

The first step to creating any estate plan is to create an estate plan checklist. This checklist will help to determine what sort of estate plan fits your needs best as well as cutting down on the time necessary to create an estate plan

Estate Planning Basics

The first step to creating an estate plan checklist is to take an inventory of the estate. No matter how modest, everything someone owns is considered a part of their estate. (It is a myth that estate planning is only about money.) Taking stock of what is owned is the first step to determining what sort of estate plan is needed to best protect the estate.

To create an inventory of an estate, the value of the assets owned by a couple or individual should be listed. Think of things such as home, cars, jewelry, etc. Next, recent statements from banks, and investment accounts should be gathered. After this, life insurance policies should be included in the inventory, noting their cash value and death beneficiaries. Finally, a list of all debts, including mortgages should be put in the inventory. This inventory will create a complete picture of the estate and provide the basis for determining which sort of estate plan will best achieve the goals of the estate’s owner.

Estate Planning Documents Checklist

After creating a comprehensive inventory, the next step in creating an estate planning checklist is to determine which estate planning documents best serve to protect and distribute the assets of the estate. These forms for getting your affairs in order are essential to any estate plan checklist.

This question is best thought of in the context of wills vs. trusts as the rest of the estate planning documents are used in conjunction with both.

In determining whether a will or trust best accomplishes the goals of the owner of the estate, some questions must be answered. Does this person value privacy and wish to avoid probate? If the answer is yes to either, then a trust should be used. Is asset protection a concern? If the answer is yes, then a trust would be necessary. Lastly, does the owner of the estate wish for their beneficiaries to inherit outright or would they like their beneficiaries to receive periodic disbursements? If periodic disbursements are wanted, then a trust is necessary.

Included in any trust- or will-based estate plan are ancillary documents. One document is a durable power of attorney. This document creates an agent — the person chosen by the principal – who can take over financial matters should the principal, the person who is creating the durable power of attorney, become incapacitated or incompetent. This is an extremely useful document and negates the need to ever have a guardian or conservator.

A healthcare power of attorney should also be included in any estate plan. This document creates an agent who can make healthcare decisions for the principal should they ever become incapacitated or incompetent.

Finally, every estate plan should include a living will. This document is sometimes called a healthcare directive. This document specifies what healthcare actions should be taken if someone can no longer make decisions for themselves due to incapacity or incompetence.

Other Estate Planning Considerations

After determining which type of estate plan is best, the next step is to consider who to choose to have serve as personal representative, or trustee, and who to have serve as agents.

When choosing who to have serve as the personal representative of a will or trustee of a trust it is best to choose someone who is organized and has some knowledge of finances. The same consideration should be made when choosing who to have serve as a durable power of attorney. When choosing an agent to serve for the healthcare power of attorney, it is best to choose someone who has some medical knowledge as well has having similar values of the principal. Choosing an empathic agent who the principal shares value with is important as they may be involved in end-of-life decisions.

How Can TuckerAllen Help You With Your Estate Plan Checklist?

At TuckerAllen we can help create an estate plan checklist for clients. Our experience allows us to explain the differences in estate plans and help clients make decisions about which type of estate plan would best achieve their goals. Further we can explain the roles of personal representatives, trustees, and agents as well as talk clients through the process of choosing to have serve in these roles. Get in touch with us if you need help putting together you restate plan checklist.

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