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How to Create an Estate Planning Checklist

How to Create an Estate Planning Checklist

3 Nov 2021
  1. Make a list of all your assets
  2. Determine which assets you want to leave to loved ones in the event of your death
  3. Name an executor who will handle the distribution of your estate
  4. Name someone to act as guardian for any minor children you may have
  5. Create a will with specific instructions on how you would like your estate handled after you die, including funeral arrangements
  6. Put together an advanced healthcare directive that spells out what medical treatments are acceptable in the event that you can no longer make decisions for yourself, including end-of-life care preferences such as hospice care or aggressive treatment options

Have you ever thought about what your family would do if something happened to you? If not, it may be time to think about creating an estate planning checklist.

The last thing anyone wants is for their loved ones and your property to become entangled in a legal battle because you didn’t plan ahead. This blog post will help you get started on the right track and outline some common steps that anyone can take.

1. Make a list of all your assets

In order to have a cohesive list of your assets and liabilities, it’s a good idea to start with the basics.

Things to include:

  • Pictures or video recordings of your property
  • Names, contact information, and phone numbers for all account holders (i.e.: insurance companies, financial institutions – including banks, brokers – real estate agents, etc.)
  • A copy of any existing wills and/or trusts you may have in place.
  • Copies of any documents that are filed with your state government
  • Documentation related to deeds for real estate properties that you own as well as documentation on current mortgages or loans that exist against those properties
  • Listing all life insurance policies (including copies of the death benefit claims), annuities, retirement accounts (401k, IRA’s, etc.), and certificates of deposit.
  • Documentation regarding any existing court actions or criminal records that may exist

A good way to get started with the list is to create an Excel spreadsheet with headings that correspond to each of these categories. You can then start entering information into the appropriate cells once you’ve gathered all the data together. If you are unsure whether you have all this documentation in place, contact your financial advisor for assistance.

The goal here is not only to make a comprehensive inventory list but also one that will serve as a guide when you are determining how best to distribute assets should you or your spouse pass away.

If there are certain items you own that are not listed here, consider gathering a comprehensive inventory of all of your personal belongings for this list as well.

2. Determine which assets you want to leave to loved ones in the event of your death

When a loved one passes away, it is often out of that person’s control to decide who will receive the assets they have worked hard for. In order to protect your family and property from any possible future legal issues, consider creating an estate planning checklist. Here are some tips that may help get you started down the right path:

Determine which assets you want to leave to loved ones in the event of your death – This step is important because it can help determine who ultimately receives what percentage of your estate upon your passing. Commonly divided up items among family members include real estate, personal property or furnishings, bank accounts, retirement funds or investments and so on.

3. Name an executor who will handle the distribution of your estate

One of the first things to consider is to name an executor or executrix who will handle the distribution of your estate. The person charged with following your wishes should be someone that’s independent, trustworthy and has the time and expertise to handle financial matters.

You want the person who is going to be responsible for winding up your estate to have a lot of integrity, be very organized and able to work with banks, attorneys and all those professionals that will need to be hands-on during the process.

In addition, it’s important for this individual to reside in a location where he or she can easily handle all aspects of an estate plan situation. If you don’t want a relative as executor but do not trust anyone else enough, consider naming a professional administrator an alternative option.

Many people think that this position only includes distributing your assets after you die, however it also includes overseeing any court procedures and closing your financial accounts.

The next step would be to decide what should happen with your business interests. If you own a small business, then this would include obtaining permits required by local or state laws as well as making sure that all outstanding bills are paid. If you don’t have a business, then this path may not apply to you; however, if anything were to ever happen to you while travelling out of the country, then your loved ones would need to know where all of your assets are located. This way they could properly notify authorities and close any accounts you may have abroad.

4. Name someone to act as guardian for any minor children you may have

It’s important that a family take the time to discuss what will happen if something were to occur to the parents of minor children. This type of planning can be included in an estate planning checklist, and it’s a great way to know what you want to happen in the event of your death or incapacity.

The first thing any parent needs to think about is who they would like their children to go to if anything should happen. By having someone designated ahead of time, you’re ensuring that your wishes are followed and not a court ruling.

If you have young children that are not yet able to handle their own affairs, then you’ll need to name someone with legal authority in order to make decisions for them when necessary (usually financial). The law does not mandate parents take this step, but it’s extremely beneficial in case something were to happen to you and your spouse.

Not having someone to take custody of your minor children could mean a court would appoint someone such as another family member that you may not like or trust. At least if there is already someone designated beforehand, you know exactly who will be in charge of handling your children’s affairs.

If you’ve already named someone as your child’s guardian, it makes the process even easier. You’ll just need to draw up an agreement that allows them to act as conservator also if necessary.

5. Create a will with specific instructions on how you would like your estate handled after you die, including funeral arrangements

A will should dictate how any assets that are not automatically given over to someone through intestacy rules are distributed upon death. If you do not have a validly executed will when you die, all of your property may be distributed pursuant to state intestacy laws which can create confusion and conflict within families.

It is also important to keep track of all the information that’s included in your will or estate planning documents. You can store important account numbers and future contact information for family members along with copies of what you’ve decided to do with your assets.

Store this information in a safe place so it is easily accessible if needed by anyone who could benefit from its contents. This would be an ideal time to put together a list of personal property inventories, including photos or videos that show where everything is located just in case there are any questions about anything that needs to be distributed after death.

Drafting a will is one of the oldest methods of minimizing or avoiding the probate process, but it may not be sufficient for modern families in which assets can include homes in multiple cities or across state lines, retirement accounts and life insurance policies in addition to bank accounts and other traditional assets.

“A lot of people don’t want to think about life after death, but if you take the time and do it now, it can prevent all sorts of problems later on”

What you can do now

Before making any final decisions, consult with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Professional who specializes in estate planning to help you with a will and estate planning. Once you have a will, keep it updated as often as necessary for every change in marital status, new children born into the family, and changes to real estate property listings.

6. Put together an advanced healthcare directive that spells out what medical treatments are acceptable in the event that you can no longer make decisions for yourself, including end-of-life care preferences such as hospice care or aggressive treatment options

Though this idea may seem daunting at first, it simplifies everything if something unfortunate does occur. It could prevent your loved ones from having to make gut-wrenching decisions during an already difficult time; remember; no one wants to discuss end-of-life medical treatment when they’re grieving.

Of course, while some people might be comfortable with putting their wishes on paper, others might feel like this is too impersonal and prefer to discuss the topic with a healthcare professional while still lucid. If that’s the case, an advanced healthcare directive can help you get your thoughts in writing so they can guide your family during this important conversation.

One thing to keep in mind: In most cases, if you don’t have one of these documents in place or do not appoint someone to make medical decisions for you when you are unable, the state of Ohio can step in and make decisions for you.

This is where a living will differs from a durable power of attorney. A living will is a document that dictates what treatments should proceed if you’re incapacitated and unable to communicate; but, it doesn’t always give someone else the authority to speak for you.

A durable power of attorney, on the other hand, is a document that designates who will speak for your interests if something happens. The person with this power can be called upon in any legal matter or financial decision during your incapacity if you don’t have an advance directive or living will in place.

Though there are many ways to execute these documents, here are some guidelines:

  • Keep copies in multiple places with people who could act on them
  • Update as needed over time
  • Be sure to explain things clearly so your family won’t be left wondering about what you wanted
  • Discuss your plan with a professional if anything seems confusing

It’s a good idea to get your estate planning checklist in order sooner rather than later. Whether you decide to use a power of attorney or create a will, it’s crucial for all families – no matter how big or small they are – to have some form of advanced healthcare directive on file before anything happens.

Take the time to sort out what your family should do if something were to happen, where everyone would find the necessary information, and what that information should entail. This way, when trying times come around, you won’t have to worry about whether people can access important financial and health decisions quickly enough because everything will already be in one place.

Just remember: If something should happen to you, it’s better for everyone if all of the information they need is clearly laid out in writing. Plus, this ensures that no matter what happens, someone will still be there to take care of things for you when you can’t do it yourself anymore.

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More About the Author: E. Michael McGervey, CFP®, CRPC®

Mike is passionate and skilled at helping clients solve complex financial challenges. He’s known for his thoughtful communication, educational approach, and exceptional customized service. Mike has been a sought-after source for financial television, magazines, and newspapers looking for insightful analysis. His expertise has been featured by CNBC, FOX Business and...