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Estate Planning

Estate Planning Checklist

8 min read
Unbundled Legal Help

by Unbundled Legal Help

Contrary to popular belief, estate planning involves more than writing a will. According to experts, nearly 68% of people lack proper estate planning. This estate planning checklist helps you understand and track the critical elements you'll need to consider. 

When planning your estate, it’s essential to cover all of the basics. Otherwise, you might not accomplish the goals you have for your assets and family after you pass away. This estate planning checklist below will help you:

  • Establish your estate planning goals
  • Create an inventory of what you own 
  • Take care of your debts
  • Review and update your beneficiaries 
  • Create a Last Will & Testament 
  • Make a living will and statement of desires
  • Consider a trust
  • Include other essential documents 

A comprehensive estate plan anticipates what will happen in the event of both disability and death. Let us put you in contact with a local estate planning attorney who will help you understand and maneuver everything involved.

Learn more about how to plan your estate below. 

What is Estate Planning?

Estate planning refers to the management of transferring assets to your beneficiaries after you pass away. Estate taxes can be levied on the value of one's estate depending on the type of assets you own and how you’ve structured your estate.

An estate is everything that comprises your net worth. That includes land, real estate, possessions, financial securities, cash, and other assets you own or have a controlling interest in.

What Should Be Included in Estate Planning?

An estate is the financial valuation of all your investments, assets, and interests. It includes your personal belongings, physical and intangible assets, land and real estate, investments, collectibles, and furnishings.

One goal of an estate plan is to ensure your beneficiaries receive assets in a manner that minimizes estate taxes, gift taxes, income taxes, and other taxes. A comprehensive estate plan begins with what you want to happen to your property upon your death, the financial well-being of your family, the degree to which probate can be avoided, and how to eliminate or minimize estate taxes.

Setting up the legal ownership of assets, then designating beneficiaries where possible, plus the inclusion of one or more estate planning forms will help you achieve these goals. In addition to financial matters, a thorough estate planning checklist will consider guardianship concerns and medical treatment planning in addition to economic issues.

Estate Planning Checklist

Thorough planning of your estate involves considering all of your assets to ensure they transfer to your beneficiaries as smoothly as possible. Making sure others know and understand your wishes will make it easier to implement your plan. 

Not sure where to get started? Follow this checklist to cover basic estate planning needs. However, it’s important to note that it’s typically in your best interest to at least consult with your attorney before executing any documents. 

Establish Your Estate Planning Goals

When it comes to establishing your estate, you first have to consider your objectives. Are you interested in providing for your loved ones and avoiding probate proceedings? Is it important for you to minimize your taxes while protecting your assets?

Estate planning helps you establish policies that you can adjust as your personal and financial situations change. Once you determine your estate planning goals, it’s easier to ensure beneficiaries receive assets in a way that reduces estate taxes, gift taxes, income taxes, and other taxes.

Create an Inventory of What You Own 

Survey your property, and make a list of what you own. These items should include your home, electronic devices, jewelry, collectibles, vehicles, artwork, antiques, landscaping equipment, and power tools.

As you complete this list, you may realize the list is longer than you expected. If a particular item reminds you of a specific individual, you can make a note of it.  In the event of your passing, you can designate these items for them. 

It also may prove beneficial for you to: 

  • Gather recent account statements from your brokerage, bank, and retirement accounts
  • Include the location and contents of any safety deposit boxes or safes.
  • Make a list of all insurance policies, noting their cash values and benefits packages.
  • List all of your liabilities, including mortgages, credit lines, and other debts.

Take Care of Your Debts

Make a list of any open credit cards and other financial obligations you may have. These debts would include auto loans, mortgages, home equity lines of credit, etc. 

Remember to add the account numbers, location of the officially signed documents, and the contact information of those who are holding the debts. It’s essential to Include all your credit cards. Be sure to note which ones you routinely use and which go unused.

Review and Update Your Beneficiaries

Your will and other documents can lay out your desires, but that alone might not be sufficient. Retirement plans and insurance packages typically designate beneficiaries that you’ll want to monitor and update whenever necessary. 

Beneficiary designations can exceed what’s in your will, so make sure you entrust your accounts to trustworthy individuals. People sometimes forget the beneficiaries they have named on policies or accounts that were established many years ago. 

Always remember to fill in your beneficiary sections. Naming contingent beneficiaries may prove critical if your primary beneficiary dies before you. 

Create a Last Will & Testament 

Your Last Will & Testament will handle any property that’s probated. Your Last Will can establish instructions for the care of children or adults with disabilities in your care. 

In your will, designate who you want to be the executor of your estate. You can also decide who will get any property that hasn’t been handled through joint ownership or a beneficiary designation. 

Make a Living Will and a Statement of Desires

A Living Will establishes your wishes regarding life-prolonging medical treatment if you can no longer make those decisions. When combined with other documents, the living will is also referred to as an advanced directive or a medical care directive.

A Living Will authorizes a health care power of attorney to make crucial decisions if you can’t. This individual also serves as a guide to whoever is executing your will. They can continue to execute your wishes even when your designated agent is no longer available. 

Your statement of desires is not legally binding but does offer valuable insight to your executor. This statement should include:

  • Information that is needed to identify and locate all of your financial accounts, insurance policies, credit cards, vehicle loans, and mortgages
  • Contact information for relatives and close friends to be notified upon your death
  • Asset locations including safe deposit boxes and storage units
  • Instructions regarding your desires for burial, cremation, funeral ceremonies, organ donation

Consider a Trust

A trust is another way to transfer wealth to family, charitable organizations, and others. It is a “fiduciary relationship” where you authorize a third party to manage your assets on behalf of your beneficiaries. 

Trusts come in many forms, but the most frequently used trusts include a living trust and a testamentary trust. In many cases, revocable trusts are helpful for individuals to avoid probate fees as well as some taxes. 

Many consider a trust because it allows them to maintain privacy, it helps beneficiaries avoid probate, and it is an efficient way to transfer assets to others. 

Include Other Essential Documents 

You should review your will and update it at least once every two years. These updates will be especially useful after major life-changing events like a marriage, divorce, death of a beneficiary, or a child’s birth. 

Once your updated will is finalized, signed, witnessed, and notarized, you will want to ensure that your estate administrator has a copy. Be sure to keep both the original and copies in a safe place.

Consider setting up both financial and medical powers of attorney so that individuals you trust are handling your affairs when you can’t. Ensure your estate is in order by creating a will, naming powers of attorney, and leaving a living will. 

Some elect to write a letter of instruction that provides step-by-step instructions on conducting your funeral. You can also make decisions about what to do with digital assets like your social media accounts.

If you're married, each spouse needs to create their own will, including plans for the surviving spouse. Your will should assign guardianship for your children and pets. Finally, it benefits everyone involved to make and distribute copies as necessary. 

Meet with an Estate Planning Attorney 

Upon making your way through these preparations, you may feel confident that your estate planning bases are covered. However, it’s in your best interest to consult with an estate planning professional before signing official documents. 

An estate planning lawyer helps review your plans, protect your estate from probate, inform you of estate planning laws, and more. They can also help you to effectively organize your estate to benefit you, your beneficiaries, and your trusts. 

Many middle-class families feel like it’s not worth planning their estates due to the costs and the limited amount of their assets. Also, estate planning lawyers often charge high upfront fees and an additional hourly rate on top of everything else. 

Fortunately, with unbundled legal services, you can save thousands in upfront fees. Learn more below. 

Save Money with an Unbundled Lawyer Today

With unbundled legal help, you can hire an unbundled estate planning lawyer to handle the complex parts of setting up your estate while you save money by taking care of the rest on your own. 

Fees for unbundled legal services start as low as $500 - $1500. If your needs are more complex or you require more comprehensive estate planning services, our network of unbundled lawyers also offers full-service estate planning at affordable rates. 

Be prepared and avoid any chance of probate with your estate. Get a free consultation today to see how an Unbundled Lawyer can assist with the intricate parts of your legal case.

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