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Use This Checklist of Estate Planning Basics to get Started

08/23/2016

Checklist of Estate Planning Basics

We love to plan vacations, and studies have shown that planning a vacation reaps as many health benefits as actually going on vacation. The same planning energy applied to an estate plan can also yield a sigh of relief when the plan is in place and your wishes have been properly documented. A recent article in gobankingrates.com, “Your Estate Planning Checklist: How to Create a Financially Sound Estate Plan,” provides a step-by-step guide for planning.

  1. Sign a Power of Attorney. This lets you name a person you trust to make financial and legal decisions for you if you can’t for yourself. Without this, your loved ones will need to go to court to have someone appointed to manage your finances.
  2. Appoint a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. This document allows you to designate an individual to make medical decisions and to carry out your end-of-life care plan if you’re unable to do so yourself. Talk to an elder law attorney to help you with issues like funding nursing home care, what to do if you’ve outlived your retirement funds, and other needs of senior citizens.
  3. Draft a Living Will. This details the medical care you would want if you become unable to make your own health care decisions.
  4. Create Your Will. This is the first step to making certain that your wishes are executed. You’ll be able to name the people you want to receive your assets, as well as designate a guardian for any minor children.
  5. Draft a Living Trust. A trust allows you to transfer property to your heirs without going through probate. If you only have a will, any property that’s only in your name at your death will go through probate court to be distributed. A trust lets you specify when and how your heirs will receive assets, which is particularly helpful with minor children.
  6. Write Funeral or Memorial Instructions. This isn’t included in your will because wills often aren’t opened and read until weeks after you pass. Create a separate document to describe the type of memorial service you’d like and whether you want to be buried or cremated. Tell friends and family about your wishes—give them copies of this document or tell them where to find it.
  7. Make a List of Accounts and Documents. This should include all of your financial accounts, insurance policies, and contact information for any professionals you work with—like attorneys, accountants, brokers, and financial planners. Make copies of your estate planning documents, the mortgage or deed to your house, and titles to cars and other property. Keep the list and documents in a safe location, like a home safe or safety deposit box. Tell family members where this list is located.
  8. Create a Care Plan for Your Pet. Selecting a beneficiary for your pet is an important decision. You’ll want to be sure you have a good fit, as well as a back-up person. To have control over the care of your pet and how the money you earmark for that care will be spent, ask an estate planning attorney to create a detailed trust. This will let you to state your wishes in detail—from the food your pet likes to veterinarian information and health care philosophies.
  9. Organize Your Social Media Accounts and Digital Assets. This means your digital music library and social media profiles for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The answer for what to do with your social media accounts and digital assets isn’t black and white. Because of various laws, it might not be legal to log on with your loved one’s password to view his or her email or access his or her banking records. Terms of use and laws in this area change frequently, so be aware of updates that could affect your account and your estate plan.
  10. Review Yearly and Update As Needed. Life changes and so do laws. Make sure that the changes in both do not impact your estate plan by reviewing it on a regular basis. The natural tendency is to push this task to the back burner, but that’s never a good idea. Chances are you may not need to make large changes, but a review by your estate planning attorney will provide peace of mind.

An experienced estate planning attorney can take you through this entire process, guide you with respect to tax laws that will minimize estate taxes, and create an estate plan that will achieve your final wishes.

Reference: gobankingrates.com (June 22, 2016) “Your Estate Planning Checklist: How to Create a Financially Sound Estate Plan”

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