Everyone should have a great estate plan—no matter what your age or financial situation. This is the legal documentation that helps those around you know and understand your wishes for your ongoing health and financial care, and who should care for your minor children or dependents should you become mentally or physically incapacitated and unable to make decisions on your own or pass away.
With this estate planning checklist, you can begin to build a great estate plan in 3 simple steps.
Creating and filling out an estate planning checklist involves gathering information into a central location, designating those persons who will be responsible for carrying out your wishes, and establishing beneficiaries. It also involves putting into place the legal documentation that will uphold your decisions.
An estate plan differs from a will in several ways, and goes much further than a will. It protects your privacy (wills are public), can help you to reduce estate taxes, court costs and fees, and should minimize the probate process. If you own substantial assets, a trust or a business, it can help you establish a succession plan. In addition, it can help with complicated family or financial situations.
One of the most important reasons to build an estate plan is to protect your hard-earned assets, both during your lifetime and for your beneficiaries after your death. Without one, your beneficiaries could incur a long drawn-out process and costly expenses.
Working with your estate planning attorney will make the process easy. This estate planning checklist will help you on the road to building a great estate plan:
Step 1: Take an inventory of these items you might need for your estate plan.
Gathering and bringing the items on this checklist isn’t necessary for your first appointment, but they will make the meeting more productive and move things along:
- existing wills, trusts, powers of attorney, living wills, healthcare powers of attorney, and medical directives;
- retirement plan, group life insurance, IRA, and annuity documents;
- individual life insurance policies;
- lists/information on other liquid assets, including cash, checking, and savings accounts, securities, money market accounts, certificates of deposits, and other
- personal property;
- trusts of which you or a family member are a grantor, trustee, or beneficiary;
- gift tax returns;
- financial statements for businesses, farms, partnerships, etc.;
- partnership agreements and buy-sell agreements;
- pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements;
- separation and/or property settlement agreements and divorce decrees;
- life-insurance policies; and
- designation of beneficiary forms for your life insurance policies, IRAs, and retirement plans.
Related: 6 Estate Planning Must-Haves
Step 2: Collect personal information you’ll need to create your estate plan.
Personal information will be needed for any spouse who will be included in your estate planning. Please be prepared to provide:
- full names;
- social security numbers;
- birth dates;
- marital status;
- citizenship status;
- contact numbers (home, cell, work, fax);
- contact addresses (email, home, work); and
- employment information (job title, annual earnings).
Personal information will be needed for children—adult, minor, and/or adopted—who will be included in your estate planning. Please be prepared to provide:
- full names and addresses;
- telephone numbers;
- marital status; and
- numbers of children.
Step 3: Organize information related to your financial status or potential future inheritances.
Information related to your current financial status and potential future inheritances will be needed. Please be prepared to provide information regarding:
- your estimated total net worth;
- whether or not you have a child/beneficiary with special needs;
- whether you expect to receive a gift or inheritance of $500,000 dollars or more;
- whether you are the beneficiary of any trusts (if so, be prepared to provide trust documents and a list of assets in each trust);
- whether you have any continuing financial responsibilities from a prior marriage (if so, be prepared to provide the property settlement or separation agreement);
- whether you’ve lived in certain states during your current marriage; and
- whether you own subchapter S stocks.
Bonus Tip: Create a list of designees.
Please be prepared to list the person(s) and backup person(s) you may designate to handle the following in the event of your disability or death:
- For finances;
- For medical decisions;
- For raising your children, if any.
Please use full names, including middle initial (or middle name), and include any suffixes such as “Jr.,” “III,” etc. No nicknames, please.
Be assured that you do not need to understand all the legal aspects of these decisions. This list is for discussion purposes only. We will discuss these decisions when you are here for your conference. Please be prepared to provide this person(s)’:
- relationship to you;
- possible role (finances, medical decisions, child-rearing);
- address; and
- telephone number.