Estate Planning Checklist: How to Be Prepared
Estate planning is an essential part of preparing for the end of life and ensuring your family and loved ones experience as little stress as possible. Having a good estate plan will eliminate the burden on your family to track down all of your accounts and will make your executor's job much easier. It also helps you feel prepared and reassured that your loved ones will be cared for as you'd like them to be.
What is estate planning?
Estate planning is the process of preparing for the transfer of your assets after your death. It involves making decisions about who will receive your assets, how they will be distributed, and when they will be distributed. Estate planning includes things like:
- Making a will
- Creating a trust (if applicable)
- Naming beneficiaries for your retirement accounts and life insurance policy
- Determining who will be the executor of your estate
Another facet of estate planning is digital estate planning, which includes things like:
- Making a list of your online accounts
- Instructions for what to do with your social media accounts
- Storing important digital documents securely
Why is estate planning important?
Estate planning is important for everyone, regardless of the size of their estate. Everyone has an estate, even if it’s just a few personal belongings. When you pass away, your estate will likely go through a legal process called probate (not all estates go through probate). Probate is the court-supervised process of gathering your assets, paying your debts and taxes, and distributing your assets to your beneficiaries.
If you don’t have a will or other estate planning documents, the state will determine how your assets are distributed. This may not be in line with your wishes. Additionally, the probate process can be long and costly. By doing some estate planning now, you can save your loved ones time and money later.
Estate planning is also important for people who have minor children. If something happens to you and your spouse, it’s important to have a plan in place for who will care for your children, what will happen to your funds, who is responsible for making decisions on behalf of your children, etc.
Finally, estate planning can help you control how and when your assets are distributed.
Start your estate planning
Estate planning involves a lot of document preparation and decision making. It can be overwhelming, but it’s important to start somewhere. Here's an estate planning checklist that includes some of the important estate planning forms you'll need to fill out.
Estate planning forms
Following is an overview of some of the important forms you'll need to get started with estate planning. In general, you should have the following forms filled out and filed somewhere safe:
- Will :A will is a legal document that outlines your wishes for how your assets will be distributed after your death. You can also use a will to appoint a guardian for your minor children.
- Power of attorney: A power of attorney is a legal document that gives someone else the authority to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf. This can be helpful if you become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions for yourself.
- Living will/advance directive: A health care proxy, also called a living will, is a legal document that appoints someone to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so.
- Trust: A trust is a legal entity that can hold assets on behalf of beneficiaries. There are many different types of trusts, but they all have one common goal: to help you manage your assets and distribute them according to your wishes. Trusts don’t make sense for everyone, so you’ll want to figure out if this is right for you and your loved ones.
You can find estate planning forms online or through an attorney.
Once you have your estate planning forms in order, it's important to keep them updated. Review your documents regularly and make changes as needed. For example, you may need to update your will if you get married, have children, or experience other major life changes.
Estate planning checklist
Now that you have an understanding of what the forms mean and what type of information is important for estate planning, you can follow this simple estate planning worksheet to make sure your affairs are in order. It's a good idea to have a master document that lists out all of this information (Ever Loved's key information checklist is an easy place to keep track of all this).
1. File a last will and testament
- Include the name of the executor of the will (this individual will be responsible for carrying out the terms of the will you've written out).
- Name a guardian for any children.
- Name a guardian for any pets.
- List out all assets you'd like distributed and the beneficiaries of those assets.
2. Assign a financial power of attorney
- Choose a financial power of attorney that you trust to make critical financial decisions for you.
- Outline what you would like to happen with your finances in the event that you are incapacitated.
- Be sure to choose whether you want a durable or non-durable power of attorney.
3. Create an advanced directive
Identify and outline what you would like to happen in terms of your medical care. Consider what you want to happen in the event you are incapacitated and will not be able to make your own decisions. Identify an individual who you would like to grant a medical power of attorney -- this individual will be responsible for making medical decisions on your behalf. Make copies of your advanced healthcare directive and let your family know where these documents are located.
4. Create a living trust
- Create a living trust if it feels right for you – this isn’t a step that makes sense for everyone, but it’s one to consider.
- Decide if you want to create a revocable trust or an irrevocable trust. Revocable trusts can be changed or removed at any point during your lifetime. Irrevocable trusts are much harder to revoke or change once you've created it.
- Identify all the property you would like to transfer into the living trust
- Name any beneficiaries for the living trust
- Transfer the desired property and assets into the living trust
- Name the individual you'd like to manage your trust once you pass
5. Identify and designate beneficiaries
- For any assets that are not included in your living trust, you'll need to name beneficiaries. Choose the beneficiaries and include them in your will. If you're unsure what to name beneficiaries for, here's a brief list: retirement accounts, IRA and 401(k) accounts, life insurance policies, property, investment accounts, pensions, etc.
6. Identify insurance policies
- Gather any documentation referring to any insurance policies you have (such as health insurance, life insurance, home insurance, funeral insurance, etc.).
- Make copies of this documentation and store it in a safe place.
- Create a list for your executor or family that names all of the different insurance policies you hold and where to find relevant documentation regarding them.
- If these policies have a place to name a beneficiary, be sure to do so if you have one in mind.
7. List financial accounts
- Gather any documentation regarding financial and investment accounts. These types of accounts can include accounts such as bank accounts, savings accounts, credit cards, investment accounts, cryptocurrency, payment apps, etc.
- Make copies of this documentation and store it in a safe place.
- Create a list for your executor or family that names all of the different financial accounts you hold and where to find relevant documentation regarding them.
- If these accounts have a place to name a beneficiary, be sure to do so if you have one in mind.
8. Detail property information
- Gather any documentation regarding any property you hold. Property includes your home, vehicles, timeshares, and any real estate.
- Make sure the listed owner on these documents is accurate and lists you as the owner.
- Create a list for your executor or family that names all of the property you hold and where to find relevant documentation regarding your property.
9. Outline utility and home information
- If you pay utility bills, make a list of utility bills in your name and include copies of any relevant documentation needed.
- If you rent property, include a copy of the rental agreement and contact information for the landlord.
10. Gather identity documentation
- Gather important proof of identity documents that your executor or family members will need in order to close accounts. Identity documents include: Social Security card, passport, birth certificate, and marriage certificates.
- Make copies of this documentation and store it somewhere safe.
- Make sure the executor or any necessary parties know where to find this information.
11. Consider your digital estate
- An easily overlooked part of estate planning is planning around your digital estate. Consider naming someone as the digital executor in your will who will be responsible for this part of your estate.
- Create a list of your digital assets which includes things like banking & financial account information, password manager information, social media accounts, email accounts, logins for any content streaming services, logins for digital files (such as document storage), and logins for any kind of bill accounts that may need to be paid or closed.
- This step is made much easier if you have a password manager (such as LastPass) that holds the passwords for all of your accounts.
12. Outline your final arrangements
- Identify and decide on what kind of final arrangements you'd like such as the method of disposition (body donation, green burial, cremation, burial, etc.) and the type of service you'd like to have (traditional funeral, memorial service, celebration of life, etc.).
- If you have pre-paid for your funeral in some way, name this in the master document and let your executor or family know about the policy.
- If you have a funeral home or provider you want to work with, be sure to include their information in your estate plan.
- If you have any specifics you'd like to name about your funeral (such as a preferred location, where you'd like donations made, what kind of decorations you'd like, etc.) be sure to include this.
- If you don't want any services, be sure to write that down.
Once you're ready to get started, use Ever Loved's estate plan checklist to easily fill out and share this information with those that you need to. The estate plan checklist is simple, easy to use, and free and has information on all important aspects of estate planning.