Estate planning is a required consideration for anyone with assets, no matter how modest. It ensures your possessions, legacy and loved ones are protected in the case that anything were to happen to you. To help you effectively plan your estate, we put together a 6-point checklist.
First you should create a list all of all assets and any debts you have in your name, making sure to include both tangible and intangible assets. Tangible assets could be your house, valuables, car, boat, land, etc. Intangible assets would be bank accounts, retirement accounts, and life insurance policies. You should have all tangible assets valued by an assessor in order to document the value of each asset on your inventory list. Make sure to document any current or future debts that are held in your name also.
Next, create a draft plan specifically identifying where each asset should go after you pass. Think about if a trust or life insurance policy may be necessary to carry out your wishes. Discuss your wishes for these assets and debts with family or friends. This serves no legal purpose, but it initiates the conversation and encourages you to think about what your wishes may be.
3. Will/Power of Attorney/Health Care Proxy
Next, visit an estate planning attorney. Discuss with them your draft plan explaining how you would like your property disbursed. Ask questions about a specific trust or life insurance needs if necessary. They can help you decide which estate documents you will need in order to carry out your wishes. You will need to identify a responsible estate administrator to execute your will after you pass. Make sure this is someone who is dependable and will act in your best interest. The attorney will then draft your wishes into binding legal documents. You should share the details of these legal documents with your financial planner. Estate documents are critical to proper planning and can affect many other aspects of your financial life.
Make sure you check the beneficiaries on your accounts regularly for accuracy. Beneficiary designations can be found on things such as retirement accounts and life insurance. It is critical that you keep these designations updated because when you pass these accounts will go directly to the beneficiary, bypassing the will. For example, even if you leave your 401k to your daughter in your will, if you listed your son as the beneficiary on the account, he will be the one receiving the 401k. You are asked to name these beneficiaries when you begin participating in your employer’s retirement plan. For some, this may have been a long time ago so it is important to check these designations regularly. Also note that in New York State if you want to name anyone other than your spouse as your beneficiary on your qualified retirement plan, your spouse has to sign a waiver giving consent.
5. Update! Update! Update!
Our lives are constantly changing, and your estate plan should be changing with it. It is important to update your estate plan every few years or as often as major life changes occur. Some examples could be the birth of a child, the death of a spouse or family member, or divorce.
6. Pre-pay funeral expenses
If you wish to make your passing as easy as possible for those you leave behind you can also set aside money for funeral expenses. One way to do this is to enter into a prepayment agreement with a specific funeral home. If you do this you should ensure that your contract will be honored regardless of when you actually pass. Another way to do this is to estimate all funeral/burial costs, put this calculated amount in a bank account, and assign it a TOD or POD (transfer on death or payable on death). This will automatically pass the account at the time of your death to whomever you named as beneficiary.