An estate plan is more than just a last will and testament, and drafting an estate plan is more than just signing a few documents. The key word is right there in the name—you have to plan. Creating a checklist can help ensure your plan covers everything that matters to you.
1. Make Choices
Planning your estate may require facing some challenging questions. Who will take care of your dependents after your death? What about pets? Who do you want to appoint as executor? Who are alternate choices in case the first pick can’t fulfill the duty? Who makes decisions if you’re incapacitated? What healthcare directives do you want if you’re seriously ill or injured? You may not realize you need to consider these deeply personal choices to create your estate plan.
2. Establish Ownership Transfers
Some policies, accounts, and properties can be transferred to new ownership immediately upon death. Titled assets, like real estate, can potentially transfer directly to beneficiaries without passing through probate. Designating property as jointly owned with rights of survivorship, for instance, allows the asset to automatically go to the surviving joint owner. Financial accounts and insurance policies can also name beneficiaries to receive payouts as soon as the account or policy holder dies. Your estate planning lawyer can help guide and direct you through this process.
3. Draft a Last Will and Testament
The keystone to an estate plane, your last will and testament allows you to spell out, in one place, many of the choices made in steps one and two. Here is where you dictate who is in charge of honoring your wishes as executor, who cares for dependents, who receives assets, and how those assets are disbursed. Wills are flexible, allowing you to outline many unique wishes. If it’s important to you, put it in your will.
4. Draft Healthcare and Financial Directives
An estate plan does not only include documents for after death. Prior to death, many people experience long illnesses or debilitating accidents. Even if that person recovers, there may be a time during an ordeal when that person is incapacitated. A financial power of attorney appoints a trusted individual to make decisions for your financial well-being if you’re unable. Likewise, a medical power of attorney functions the same, but for healthcare decisions. A living will dictates what treatments you approve or decline, such as life support. Eliminate the guesswork for your loved ones and make it easier to honor your wishes in the event of incapacitation.
5. Draft a Trust
Not everyone needs a trust. However, for some, trusts provide opportunities to allocate assets for specific purposes and avoid probate. Assets placed in a trust legally belong to the trust. They therefore don’t go through probate upon the death of the original trustee but are transferred to beneficiaries via a successor trustee. Revocable living trusts allow changes throughout the original trustee’s lifetime; they can even be revoked entirely at any time. Other trusts allow you to set aside funds for the care of dependents, special needs loved ones, or even pets. As a general rule of thumb, if you have minor children or own any real estate, you should have a trust.
6. Don’t Forget the Details
Does your spouse know your Facebook password? How to access your cryptocurrency account? Do you have a specific song you want played at your funeral? Consider including these options in your estate plan. Write down how to access online accounts and how you want them handled after you pass. Leave instructions for your funeral. Tell your spouse how to get rid of HBO. These small details may seem insignificant compared to choosing your child’s guardian, but they add stress for loved ones already dealing with loss. Do them a favor by making this information easily found after your death.
7. Revisit as Needed
The phrase “estate planning” is in the present progressive tense for a reason—this is not a one-and-done activity. Your estate plan should be maintained to reflect major life changes. Not updating your will after thirty years could result in accidental disinheritances. After births, deaths, marriages, divorces, remarriages, accidents, or changes in financial status, revisit your estate plan to make sure the right people are still beneficiaries, the right assets are still listed, and the right plan is in place to make your passing easier.