Estate Planning Guide

Estate Planning Checklist: Things to Do Before You Die

Estate Planning Checklist: Things to Do Before You Die

Estate planning has long been associated with the wealthy. But if you have assets, you have good reason to make plans for what happens to those assets when you’re no longer around.

Stephanie Faris

Published April 2nd, 2021

Key Takeaways

  • If you pass away, your loved ones will be tasked with distributing your assets. Estate planning can document your wishes to make it easier for everyone.
  • A will is only one part of estate planning.
  • A Certified Financial Planner® or estate planning attorney can be a valuable resource for end-of-life planning.

Estate planning has long been associated with the wealthy. But if you have assets, you have good reason to make plans for what happens to those assets when you’re no longer around.

When you think of estate planning, you probably immediately go straight to getting a will drawn up. While that’s certainly an important part of the process, it’s only one piece of the puzzle. This article will take you through some estate planning basics so that you can create a checklist that will help you prepare for the future.

What is Estate Planning?

The word “estate” refers to the items you own that would come into play if you died today. Your house, vehicles, furniture, and even your clothing will all need to be distributed after your death.

With that in mind, it’s easy to guess what the estate planning definition is. Estate planning is taking a proactive effort to make sure your assets are distributed the way you want them to be. As easy as it is to put off this type of planning, a little preparation now will make things easier for everyone if the unexpected happens.

8 Steps to basic estate planning

Even if you’re creating a will, estate planning doesn’t require an attorney to get started. You’ll likely want one to review it before it becomes final, but you can start planning, including creating a will, long before you’ve consulted an attorney. Here are eight steps to help you get started.

Create an Inventory for Tangible and Intangible Assets

Now that you know what is an estate, it’s time to get a full grasp of what your estate includes. Do an inventory of everything you own. This inventory can be divided into two major categories:

  • Tangible assets – This category refers to items that you can see when you look around your property. Your electronic equipment, vehicles, jewelry, artwork, and other valuables are all tangible assets.
  • Intangible assets – There are many assets your loved ones won’t be able to see at first glance. Part of what is estate planning should be documenting all intangible assets like 401(k) accounts, other investments, life insurance policies, and funds in bank accounts.

Account for Your Family’s Needs

What you’re leaving behind is only the first step in answering what is estate planning. It’s also about where your assets will go if you die. Look at the loved ones you’ll leave behind. What would they need to live comfortably in your absence? Your estate planning should be geared toward protecting your spouse, kids, and any other close loved ones in the event of your death.

This is a very important part of your estate planning checklist. You’ll need paperwork in place to “direct” your survivors on how your estate should be handled. These are called legal directives and they include:

Will – Your estate planning should include will planning and drafting. This document should be left where someone can easily access it if you die.

Trust – This gives someone else the right to administer your account in the event of your death.

Medical care directive a/k/a Living Will – This documents your wishes if you ever are in a position where someone needs to make a decision about your care, such as if you’re on life support.

Power of attorney – If you should become unable to manage your finances, this appoints someone you trust to take over.

Review Your Retirement Accounts

If you’re creating a checklist, you can make a simple estate planning worksheet to ensure that you’ve double-checked all your retirement accounts. Look at what happens to the funds in any of these accounts if you die. Make sure you’ve listed them all so that your beneficiaries will know that funds are in those accounts after you’re gone. This will help keep you from losing money that should be going to your survivors.

Review Your Beneficiaries

An important part of any estate planning services should be to take a close look at leaving a legacy and who is inheriting your funds after you die. This includes life insurance policies and retirement accounts. Over the years, it can be easy to lose track of an old account that might have a parent or ex-spouse listed as your beneficiary.

Determine If You Need Extra Help

You don’t have to plan your estate on your own. There are professionals who specialize in helping people with estate planning. Meeting with an estate planning attorney can save you a lot of time and expense down the road. These professionals specialize in ensuring families are well taken care of in the event of a death. But you can also sit down with a Certified Financial Planner® (CFP) who will walk you through the steps of creating an estate plan and inventorying your own personal assets. A CFP® can also help you ramp up your investments and savings to ensure you have something to leave behind.

Plan to Revisit Your Estate Plan

What is the purpose of making an estate plan? To make sure, if you die, that the assets you own are distributed the way you want them to be. Family estate planning goes beyond putting a will and trust in place, though. You’ll need to document everything, make sure the documents can be found after your death, and ensure it all remains accurate over the years. Things can change between now and the day you die, so it’s important to set a goal to revisit your estate plan every few years to make sure it’s up to date. It’s beneficial to add an estate planning review to your calendar a few years out so that when that day comes as a reminder you can reassess any changes to your situation.

Final Thoughts

By making a checklist for will planning and your overall estate, you can hold yourself accountable for getting it all done. It can be easy to procrastinate future planning, especially if you have a busy schedule. A Certified Financial Planner® can not only help you create a plan, but also can work with you to line up your finances so that when you do reach your end of life, you’ll leave behind enough assets to take care of your loved ones.

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Stephanie Faris

Stephanie Faris has written about finance for entrepreneurs and marketing firms since 2013. She spent nearly a year as a writer for a credit card processing service and has written about finance for numerous marketing firms and entrepreneurs. Her work has appeared on Money Under 30, The Motley Fool, MoneyGeek, E-commerce Insiders, and GoBankingRates.

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