16 Things to Do When Planning Your Estate
Use This Checklist to Help Ensure Your Affairs Are in Order| By: Randall E. White, CFP®, RICP®, CRPC®, CMFC®
None of us like to think about a world that we’re no longer a part of, yet we all have limited time on Earth. Having to make decisions about who should raise your children or which of your children will best manage your assets can be uncomfortable. But the critical aspect of estate planning is this: if you don’t make a plan, then you lose your power. Without an estate plan in place, your assets may end up in court and divvied up based on a judge’s decision rather than your own.
A strong estate plan is about more than simply having a will written down. You’ll want to be sure that you’ve thoroughly planned for all of your assets as well as put a plan in place to ensure they transfer as smoothly as possible to your heirs. Needless to say, there’s a lot that goes into estate planning. It can be intimidating to begin the process, but the following checklist can help guide you as you begin putting your own estate plan in place.
1. Take stock of your physical assets.
The easiest place to begin when it comes to estate planning is taking stock of your inventory. After all, you can’t make a plan if you don’t know what you have. Take some time to go through the inside and outside of your home and make a list of all your valuable items. Some things you may want to consider are jewelry, artwork, cars, antiques, and the home itself.
2. Add in non-physical assets.
Once you have an inventory of your valuable items, add in your non-tangible assets. This should include anything you own on paper, any brokerage accounts, 401(k) plans, any bank accounts, life insurance policies, and other policies such as long-term care or insurance. You’ll want to include all account numbers and any information about the location of the physical documents.
3. Create a list of all debts.
Along with your assets, you’ll also want to create a list of any open credit cards, loans, or any other financial obligations you may have. This could be any auto loans, mortgages, home equity lines of credit, or any other debts you owe. Be sure to include account numbers and the location of signed contracts, as well as any other additional information that may be needed.
4. Make a list of any memberships.
Some organizations that have members offer accidental life insurance benefits along with membership, and your beneficiaries may be eligible to collect. Because of this, you’ll want to make a list of any organizations you belong to such as the AARP, veterans groups, a college alumni group, or a professional accreditation association. Along with memberships, you’ll want to create a list of any charitable organizations that you support.
5. Keep copies of your lists.
Once you have all your lists in order, date and sign them for your records. Be sure to give your estate administrator a copy, your spouse another copy, and then keep one in a safe place for your own records.
6. Review your beneficiaries.
When it comes to accounts that have designated beneficiaries, those designations take precedence over any other wishes you may have about how those accounts are distributed. So, you’ll want to be sure that your beneficiaries are listed correctly in accordance with your wishes. Review all of your accounts to make sure that the beneficiaries listed are current and correct – and be sure that, every time you go through a big life change such as divorce or marriage, you revisit your beneficiaries.
7. Update any insurance policies.
Similar to retirement accounts, your life insurances and annuities will have beneficiaries listed, as well. It’s crucial that you keep these up to date to reflect your current wishes.
8. Designate transfer on death assignments.
Too often, assets that are bequeathed in a will go through probate, which can be costly and time-consuming. For some accounts, though, such as bank savings accounts, CD accounts, and individual brokerage accounts, it’s not necessary for these assets to go through probate. If you have any of these types of accounts, look into assigning a transfer on death (TOD) designation that allows your beneficiaries to receive your assets without having to deal with the probate process.
9. Assign an estate administrator.
You’ll want to have an executor who you trust to be in charge of administering your will when you die. Be sure that you select someone who has proven themselves to be responsible and who is in a good mental state to make important decisions.
10. Draft a will.
While having a will isn’t the full picture of estate planning, it’s still a critical part of any good estate plan. Wills are fairly inexpensive, and you can include guidelines for how you want your assets to be distributed. Make sure that after you’ve drafted your will you sign and date it in front of two non-related witnesses who also sign the document and have it notarized. Lastly, be sure that you let others close to you know where the document is located when it’s needed.
11. Revisit your documents consistently.
Chances are good that many of your estate planning documents will require changes over time. You may get married, get divorced, have children, open new accounts, change the terms of a policy… Whatever the change, it’s important that you review your documents regularly to ensure they still align with your wishes.
SEE ALSO: Your Retirement Tax Prep List
12. Give your executor a copy of the necessary documents.
Along with keeping your signed and notarized will somewhere safe, you’ll also want to be sure to give a copy of it to your estate administrator for safekeeping.
13. Simplify your accounts.
If you’re among the many people who jumped from job to job throughout the course of your career, you may have left a trail of retirement accounts in your path. Consider consolidating your accounts to not only simplify your estate plans but also give you better options for investment choices.
14. Ensure all important documents are finalized.
At a bare minimum, an estate plan should include a will, power of attorney, a living will, and a health care proxy. You may also want to think about setting up financial and medical powers of attorney should you become incapacitated and need someone to step up and make choices for you. Additionally, you could write out a letter of instruction that delineates a step-by-step plan for carrying out your estate plan wishes.
15. Look into setting up college funding accounts.
If you have young children or grandchildren and are interested in helping support them through college, consider setting up a 529 college savings plan for them. These plans grow tax-free, and any withdrawals are taken from them that go towards qualified education expenses are tax-free, as well.
16. Seek out the help of a professional.
Even if you think that you’ve covered all of your bases, talking with a professional can help ensure that you’ve addressed everything necessary for a smart estate plan. They’ll be able to keep you updated on any legislative changes or changes in income and estate tax laws that could impact your estate plan.
Concluding Thoughts on Necessary Steps When Planning Your Estate
Estate planning is complicated and having to put a lot of these decisions down on paper can be difficult from an emotional standpoint, too. However, putting a plan in place ensures that your wishes will be carried out once you’re gone. An estate plan can also help diffuse any family drama, confusion, or tension, as well as mitigate unnecessary expenses that may arise. Ultimately, there’s security in knowing your family will be provided for should something happen to you.
If you’d like to consult with a professional about your estate plan, we can help. At TriCapital, we know that every estate is unique. We will help you develop and implement plans to ensure your estate is distributed in exactly the way you want, and take into account income, gift, and estate taxes to make sure your wealth is maximized for your family. While we do not provide legal services, we can help advise you in all areas of your estate matters. If you’re ready to schedule a conversation, please contact us today.
Securities offered through Triad Advisors, LLC, member FINRA/SPIC. Advisory services offered through TriCapital Wealth Management, Inc. TriCapital Wealth Management, Inc. is not affiliated with Triad Advisors, LLC.