Learn and Plan | Seven items that should be on your estate planning list
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Seven items that should be on your estate planning list

Mar 6, 2024, 4:11:03 PM | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Estate planning is an important process of designating who will receive your assets when you pass away and allows you to leave instructions about your property, children, health care wishes, and final arrangements. To help complete an estate plan or get one started, here’s a look at several of the benefits and seven items to add to an estate planning checklist.

Estate planning benefits

No matter a person’s income level or net worth, creating an estate plan and outlining final wishes can ensure any assets are distributed correctly and help make decision-making for loved ones less stressful and more straightforward. Estate planning allows you to:

  • Take care of your loved ones
  • Outline financial wishes for family
  • Help minimize taxes and estate expenses
  • Lessen the financial burden on beneficiaries
  • Designate a power of attorney
  • Name the person who will make decisions regarding your health care and finances

Estate planning chceklist

To get an estate plan started or finalize one that’s in the works, here are seven items to check off the list.

House 1. Create asset inventory

To begin the estate planning process, a good place to start is creating a catalog of everything you own. Start with a list of tangible possessions, including:

  • Housing—house, condo, land, or other properties
  • Vehicles—cars, motorcycles, boats, aircraft
  • Collectibles—jewelry, trading cards, rare coins, artwork, etc.

Next, make a list of all intangible assets, for example:

  • Checking and savings accounts
  • Certificates of deposit
  • Stocks, bonds, and mutual funds
  • Life insurance policies
  • Retirement accounts—401(k) plans, individual retirement accounts
  • Health savings accounts
  • Proof of Business Ownership

Once an inventory is created, gather any estate planning documents, like recent statements from the bank, life insurance company, and retirement accounts, and estimate the value of each item using appraisals or account statements.

Will 2. Establish a will

Creating and finalizing a will can help ensure money and property are distributed to beneficiaries according to personal wishes. This legal document outlines the distribution of assets after death and generally includes designation of an executor, beneficiaries, instructions for how and when they will receive the assets, and guardians to any minor children. The wording in a will should be consistent with how allocated assets are outlined in other documentation, such as insurance policies or retirement accounts, to prevent it from being contested.

Remember, that without a will, an estate may be left to state officials to decide how beneficiaries will receive a person’s assets. A lawyer can draft a will for you, or you can prepare one yourself using online resources. If a person chooses to draft one themselves, they will need to sign it in front of witnesses. Witnessing laws vary by state, but typically it is two witnesses who are not mentioned in the will.

A trust allows a person to designate portions of their estate to a trustee while they’re still alive. Unlike wills, most trusts cover a specific asset, such as a piece of property, rather than an entire estate. A trust is often set aside for underage beneficiaries who can only claim it when they are old enough to manage assets.

Balance 3. Assign a power of attorney

A financial power of attorney designates someone to manage your financial affairs if you’re medically unable to do so. A designated agent can act on behalf of a person in legal and financial situations, access and manage assets, and pay bills and taxes. Without a power of attorney, a court may decide what happens to an estate if a person is found incapable of managing it and a probate judge will appoint a guardian or conservator to oversee the management of the estate.

Beneficiary 4. Designate beneficiaries

An important aspect of the estate planning process is naming beneficiaries. Bank accounts, life insurance policies, individual retirement accounts, annuities, and brokerage accounts all likely require you to name a primary beneficiary, and often a secondary beneficiary. Regularly review these designations, especially after certain life events like the birth of a child, marriage, or divorce. Like wills, trusts, and power of attorney, if a beneficiary is not named or the beneficiary is underage or has passed away, a court will likely decide what happens to the estate.

Letter 5. Write a letter of intent

A letter of intent is an informal document of instructions for an executor or family outlining personal and financial wishes following death. These letters are not legally binding but can be added to an estate plan to provide more information about funeral and burial arrangements, financial information, digital information, and personal items. While this document is not considered a valid legal document, it can help a judge understand your intentions, which will aid in the distribution of your assets.

Guardianship 6. Appoint guardianship

A designation of guardianship is an essential estate planning document that allows an individual to name a person to act as a guardian should they become incapacitated or pass away for any minor children or children with special needs. If a guardian is not appointed, the court will often decide who will take care of the children.

Financial Professional 7. Talk to a financial professional

To help ensure an estate plan is in good shape or to get started, it can be beneficial to talk to a financial professional, attorney, and/or estate tax professional who can simplify the process and help explain state regulations and inheritance taxes. These professionals can answer any questions, make sure all paperwork is in order, and be a resource for loved ones. Deciding to move forward in creating a sound estate plan, can help you feel more confident that your assets will go to the right people, can lessen the financial burden on family by minimizing legal and tax issues, and ensure your final wishes will be honored.


REV 3/2024