Creating a checklist when preparing your estate plan is an excellent idea.
Some people really like checklists.
I know I do.
[In fact, I have a checklist for my Friday household cleaning chores sitting right beside me. I will take up that list right after I finish this blog post.]
There is great satisfaction in writing out every detail onto a piece of paper (yes, I prefer paper to digital) with little empty boxes next to each task.
When each task is completely, the feeling of placing a checkmark in the little box is pure joy!
According to a recent U.S. News & World Report article titled “10 Steps to Writing a Will,” creating a checklist when working on your estate plan is helpful to accomplishing your goals.
Estate planning is multifaceted, and it can be easy to overlook important steps.
By writing a list and including the steps of estate planning, you can be confident you will not have holes in your estate plan.
What should you include in your estate planning checklist?
Start by securing the services of an experienced estate planning attorney.
Although it may be tempting to do your estate planning alone, you will likely make a costly mistake.
However, you will never know about the mistake when it becomes relevant (if you know what I mean), but your family certainly will.
An estate planning attorney will be familiar with state and federal laws and will be able to address these in your estate plan.
The next step is to choose beneficiaries to include in your estate plan, whether the foundation is built on a last will and testament or a revocable living trust.
Your estate planning legal documents will control who inherits your assets.
In some instances, your heirs may not be ready to receive an outright inheritance.
In these instances, you may consider incorporating an inheritance trust in your estate plan.
The third step to include in your checklist is to review and update beneficiary designations on accounts.
Not all assets are distributed through probate, which is the function of a last will and testament.
Certain assets and accounts like life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and transfer on death accounts will transfer directly to a named beneficiary when you die.
If the beneficiary designations have not been recently reviewed and are outdated at your death, then you may end up leaving significant wealth to your ex-spouse or an old friend rather than your current family members.
The fourth estate planning step is choosing an executor under your last will and testament for your probate estate or a trustee for your revocable living trust.
Administrating an estate or a trust is no small task.
You will want somebody trustworthy and organized to handle your affairs when you die.
The next step in your estate plan is nominating a guardian for minor children.
Failing to do so means your orphaned minor children will be reared by someone chosen by the court not by you.
The sixth step to include on your checklist is to draft a letter detailing and describing specific items of tangible personal property (think heirlooms) and their intended heirs.
Not all assets hold monetary value.
Some are sentimental.
By including this list, you can ensure those who care about your collections and possessions receive them.
The seventh step shifts into incapacity planning through the designation of a financial power of attorney.
This person will serve as the legally recognized agent empowered to manage your financial affairs while you are alive but incapacitated.
Next, you should appoint an agent in a medical power of attorney.
Doing so ensures someone you trust will be able to make medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot do so yourself.
Include an advance health care directive in your estate plan to explain your desires for medical and end-of-life care.
Doing so provides direction to the agents serving to make your health care decisions.
We actually combine a health care treatment directive with a durable power of attorney for medical decisions into our advance health care directive, with an anatomical gift declaration to clarify that decision.
Finally, talk about your wishes with your loved ones and those you have selected to serve in specific roles.
These people should be clear regarding what is expected and agree to the responsibilities.
Knowing where the estate planning documents are located and how to access them will also be important information for your loved ones, too.
By following these steps, you can create an estate plan with confidence.
Once your checklist is completed, you should remember to review and update your plan every few years as life circumstances and laws change.
Reference: U.S. News & World Report (May 13, 2021) “10 Steps to Writing a Will”