Face it. None of us want to think about our own mortality or the possibility of being unable to make decisions for ourselves. But this is why many families like yours are caught off-guard and unprepared when incapacity or death happens.
But as the saying goes, “By failing to prepare, we prepare to fail.” And a good reason why it's important to not wait to get your estate plan in place. The following is a basic, eight-point estate planning checklist that can serve as a starter guide to help you prepare for the unexpected.
An 8-point estate planning checklist to help get you started
Here, you'll want to create two lists - one for physical assets and one for non-physical assets. Physical assets include items such as your home, jewelry, collectables, firearms, etc. Non-physical assets are things you own on paper or any other entitlements that can be predicated upon your death. For example, bank accounts, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and so on.
Make a will or a living trust
Creating a will provides your instructions after you're gone, stating who you would want to inherit your property, and can allow you to name an adult guardian to care for minor children should something happen to both parents. However, a will won't help you avoid probate. For this reason, you might want to consider a living trust. A living trust can help your loved ones avoid the expensive and often lengthy probate process.
Select your estate's administrator/executor
An administrator is a trusted individual who is responsible for ensuring the instructions in your will are carried out according to your wishes. This is a very critical step because if you do not designate someone, the courts will do it for you. You can name your spouse, but be sure to have a backup should you both pass away simultaneously.
Create a durable power of attorney for your healthcare and finances
Here's a document through which you can give a trusted individual the authority to manage your financial affairs and carry out your healthcare wishes if you become too ill or incapacitated to speak for yourself.
File beneficiary forms
Naming a beneficiary for your retirement plans will automatically ensure that the accounts become “payable on death” to your beneficiary, thus allowing these funds to avoid the probate process altogether.
Make a list of your debts
Make a list of all your open credit cards and debts such as your mortgage, vehicle loans, and lines of credit. If possible, try to update this list every year.
Review and update beneficiaries
Review your will, life insurance, annuity contracts, and any other critical documents to make sure the beneficiaries are listed the way you want.
It's a good idea to make three copies of your documents (will, asset lists, etc.). Provide one copy to your estate administrator, put one in a safe deposit box, and retain the third for your records.
Remember, don't wait. You can put a very basic estate plan in place now, and change/update it later. For more information on wills and estate planning, visit the Protective Learning Center.