Few people want to consider the end of their lives. Unfortunately, being unprepared for the end of your life can result in real problems for your loved ones: assets being distributed differently than you would’ve wanted, costly days in probate court, or unexpected expenses for your family. A comprehensive estate plan can help prevent this big mess.
In general, it’s wise to have a plan for when the inevitable happens. However, it can be overwhelming to approach this if you haven’t previously put much thought into it. Even if you have, worrying about whether you’ve covered all of the important steps can be stressful.
Complete this Estate Planning Checklist to avoid these unpleasant outcomes:
A smart first step is to catalog all of your assets and liabilities. From financial accounts, credit cards, properties, valuable physical assets, and any other relevant information, the rest of these steps will be easier if you actually know what you have to distribute, and what types of expenses will need to be paid.
Draft a Living Will and a Last Will
Having a will is perhaps the most important part of an estate plan. There are several types of wills, but the most commonly used are living wills and last wills. A living will stipulates the type of medical care you would like to receive (or not receive) after you’re no longer able to communicate. A Last Will and Testament covers what you would like done with your assets upon your death. In other words, who gets what. These are both crucial parts of any estate plan.
Create a Trust
A trust essentially passes assets to a third party, which could be a financial institution or simply someone you entrust with the responsibility. A trust can be useful, but it’s not necessary for every person. If you feel it’s important to exert more control over your assets than a will allows for, a trust may be your best bet. For example, if you want to dictate a set amount of money to go to your children each year, a trust is the way to go. If your estate is valued at over $5.49 million (the current amount at which the estate tax is applied), setting up a trust early on can allow you to give money to your children each year, which chips away at the taxable size of your estate. Another perk of some trusts is that they avoid the lengthy and costly probate process.
Authorize Power of Attorney
Power of attorney gives someone the authority to make financial decisions on your behalf. However, this power ceases the moment you die or become otherwise incapacitated, unless you have vested this person with durable power of attorney. It is wise to have a trusted person in place to take over control of monetary decisions in the event of your death.
Update Beneficiary Forms
These documents correspond to several different types of accounts, such as retirement plans, annuities, and life insurance plans. Without a beneficiary named for these accounts, a probate court will decide how the assets will be distributed. To avoid this mess, make sure any beneficiary forms are updated to ensure that funds are quickly transferred to those who need them.
Choose a Healthcare Proxy
Just as the person given power of attorney is put in charge of making financial decisions after you’re unable to, this trusted person will be tasked with making decisions regarding your medical treatment in the event that you are unable to advocate for yourself.
Take Care of Insurance
Making sure your insurance is in place to help your family is important. You don’t want to have them worrying about how to cover your funeral and burial expenses while they’re still grieving. Having a sufficient life insurance plan in place and a decision of what you’d like to be done with your body are important tasks to take care of before it’s too late.
These are all valuable steps toward preparing the future you desire for your loved ones. However, the exact documents and procedures needed can vary by state and circumstance.