Have you given thought yet to your estate planning? It’s the sort of thing that is easy to put off but that is actually super-important to get done. Here are some basics on what estate planning is, why it’s so important, and finally, an estate planning checklist to help you get things done.
What Is Estate Planning?
Estate planning involves making decisions about what will happen to your assets and property when you die.
Even if you don’t have millions of dollars in the bank, you likely have items that would be part of your estate planning, including:
- A home
- A car
- Bank accounts
- Insurance policies
- Other special possessions, such as heirloom jewelry
Estate planning also includes deciding who will manage and help distribute these possessions after you die. There are a number of laws surrounding estate planning, and you want to set up these items to help avoid tax implications for the beneficiaries. Estate planning also covers how to handle healthcare decisions and your property should you become incapacitated due to an illness or an accident.
Estate planning is important for any adult, but it’s especially important once you reach retirement age. There are too many negative things that can happen when you don’t have estate planning done. In that situation, it’s left up to the court to distribute your assets, and your wishes may not get followed. If you are incapacitated and you don’t have an estate plan, the court will appoint a guardian to control your assets and make decisions for you. Again, the decisions made by the court and by the guardian may not be exactly what you want.
6 Point Estate Planning Checklist
Here are six important steps to help get your estate planning in order.
1. Consider What You Have.
You probably have more than you initially think of to handle under the estate planning umbrella. In addition to the basic items above, you may have stocks, retirement funds, ownership in a business, and collectible items, to name just a few things. It can be helpful to keep a list of what these items are worth, although some of them may have an intangible value.
2. Think About Protecting Your Family.
A next logical step in an estate planning checklist is to make plans for those you care for, including your children, older relatives you care for, and pets. This can include setting up a guardian (and a back-up guardian) to take care of your children (if you’re married, this would be in case something happened to both you and your spouse/partner) and making sure you have sufficient life insurance. If you have any specific wishes for your children, now is the time to document them.
3. Get Your Legacy Planning Paperwork Done.
To help fully cover estate planning, there are a few other documents to get done.
Those would include:
- A will
- A medical directive (also known as a living will) that documents your wishes for medical care if you can’t state them yourself
- Power of attorney, which establishes someone to help manage your finances if you can no longer do so (either temporarily or permanently)
- A trust, which will move part of your assets to be used for certain things if you are alive but incapacitated.
Although working with an estate planning attorney or estate planning tax professional can provide a lot of help, it’s not always necessary. If you don’t have many assets, you may be able to get by with online-based programs to help you write your will. However, if you have any doubts or believe your needs are more complex, the professionals are available.
4. Update Your Beneficiaries.
Your beneficiaries are those who will receive certain assets if something happens to you. It’s common to designate beneficiaries with financial items such as bank accounts, but those beneficiaries can get outdated. For instance, you may have an account that still lists an ex-spouse as a beneficiary. Go through any beneficiary designations and update them as needed. Name a backup as well.
5. Find Out About Your State’s Estate Tax Laws.
These are taxes that must be paid if your estate is worth more than a certain amount. Most people won’t pay these because the exemption limits tend to be high–on the federal level, up to $11.7 million is exempt from estate taxes. However, your state may have different estate tax rules that you should find out in advance. Be sure to check this off of your estate planning checklist to ensure you know that you’re in the clear.
6. Review Your Estate Plan Regularly.
Life changes, and that means your estate plan probably changes too. Or, sometimes, laws may change that have an implication on estate plans.
Running through the estate planning checklist is a complex process, and the tips shared here truly just scratch the surface. Make a point to educate yourself more on the estate planning process so you have truly protected your loved ones if something were to unfortunately happen to you. Estate planning may not be fun, but it is something that can provide peace of mind once it’s finished.
Nobody likes to think about their mortality, but if Benjamin Franklin was correct, the only certainties in life are death and taxes. Hopefully this estate planning checklist helps you get a head start. And, if you’re reading this and thinking about your parents, be sure to talk to them early on about estate planning as they might not be considering it themselves.