Your Estate Plan Checklist

Estate plans are a common way for Americans to get all of their assets in order, especially as they age. However, most people's plans are incomplete and often don't address some of the most important subjects.

This estate plan checklist, will help you ensure that you have a sound estate plan. However, you should also look into getting an attorney who specializes in elder law, and a financial analyst to help ensure that your plan and your assets are protected and being managed properly. The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys is a great resource to find an attorney in your area that meets your needs.

1. Will 

A will provides instructions for distributing your assets to your family and other beneficiaries when you pass. Your will also appoints someone to be the executor to pay final expenses, taxes, etc., and then distribute the remaining assets. If you have minor children, a will is also a way to designate a guardian for them. A will doesn’t take effect until you die and it cannot provide for management of your assets if you become incapacitated. That’s why it is necessary to have other estate planning documents in place to utilize if you should be unable to act for any reason.

2. Durable power of attorney for business and health care decisions

A power of attorney is a legal document in which you name another person to act on your behalf. You can give this person/agent broad or limited powers. You should choose this person carefully because he or she will be able to sell, invest and spend or distribute your assets. A durable power of attorney continues to apply if you are incapacitated and terminates only upon your death, whereas a traditional power of attorney terminates upon your disability or death.

3. Health care power of attorney and living will

A health-care power of attorney authorizes a person you designate to make medical decisions for you in the event you are unable to do so yourself. This document, coupled with a living will are necessary to avoid family conflicts and even court intervention should you become unable to make your own health care decisions. A living will dictates your wishes regarding the use of life-sustaining treatments and other end-of-life medical care in the event of a terminal illness or accident. It states what you do and do not want done in terms of treatment, but doesn’t give any individual the legal authority to speak for you. That is why it is usually coupled with a health care power of attorney.

4. Revocable living trust

You’ll need one of these to transfer, manage and distribute assets while you are alive and to avoid probate after your death. There are many different kinds of trusts, which are usually put in place to minimize estate taxes. Each trust has benefits and should be discussed with your attorney. There are marital trusts, charitable trusts, generation-skipping trusts, bypass trusts, testamentary trusts, qualified terminable interest property trusts, and more. A revocable living trust is often used in estate plans. By transferring assets into a revocable living trust, you can manage your financial affairs during your lifetime and provide management if you become incapacitated. A revocable living trust lets trust assets avoid probate, keeps personal information private and can designate the disposition of trust assets to future generations.

5. List of Assets

A list of assets will serve as a guide for those managing your estate or your affairs if you are incapacitated. Use this form from Retired Brains to list all your assets and where they are located.

6. Do not Resuscitate Order (DNR)

A DNR medical order written by a doctor instructs any healthcare providers to not use cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if a patient stops breathing or heart stops beating.  Some feel this is an important document, while others do not. If it is important to you, include this document in your plan.

7. Legacy Letter

A legacy letter is an ethical will designed to pass “ethical values” from one generation to the next. Traditional wills involve what you want your loved ones to have. Ethical wills involve what you want your loved ones to know.

8. Discussion with attorney about who inherits what assets

Decide where you want your assets to go and discuss this specifically with your attorney.

9. Selection of someone to make medical decisions if necessary

Decide whom you want to make health decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated.

10. Instructions on how you want your assets distributed

Have this discussion with your attorney and/or spouse or appropriate family member, trustee, etc.

11. Guardian decision

If you have minor children, you may wish to name a guardian to take care of them in the event of your passing.

12. Estate plan tax review

Meet with your accountant and attorney to discuss the tax consequences of your estate plan.

13. Instructions on how to handle digital legacy

Check your digital footprints. Most people aren’t aware of the full extent of their presence online.  List any personal sites and review the steps necessary to protect online information after your death or if you are no longer able to act on your own behalf.

14. Letters to your family

Consider writing a letter to your spouse or family regarding your funerary wishes should you need to be removed from life support or pass unexpectedly. This letter will make their decisions a great deal easier if you reiterate that this is your wish with a personal, not formal, request.

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Source: Koff, Art. "Use This 14 Point Checklist To Review Your Estate Plan." Next Avenue. 31 July 2015. <http://www.nextavenue.org/use-this-14-point-checklist-to-review-your-estate-plan/>