Estate planning are crucial documents that everyone needs to take care of before falling terminally ill or in preparation for the end of your life. For many, estate planning is all about having peace of mind. But, it is much more than that.
Effective estate planning helps your family get the proper guidance on facing the future in your absence. Estate planning ensures that your dependents, humans and animals, are left for adequate care even if you are not physically present.
In a financial aspect, estate planning helps minimize various tax burdens and unforeseen expenses.
Considering the importance of effective estate planning, here is the ultimate guide for beginners. We address everything you need to know about estate planning, from documents to common mistakes. We are providing you with the most concise estate planning checklist, too.
Estate planning is properly documenting or arranging all your assets and affairs before your death. Estate planning ensures that your dependents and loved ones are adequately cared for even after your demise.
Many people mistake a will for estate planning. Actually, will is just a part of estate planning. Estate planning will contain all the information on your accounts, properties, assets, belongings, liabilities, etc.
Transferring the money based on estate planning would be extremely easy if you added nominees or beneficiaries to your accounts.
Documents Needed for Effective Estate Planning
Before proceeding to the technical aspects and estate planning checklist, here are the essential documents you may need for effective estate planning.
- Also called testament and last will.
- A legal document that explains how the assets are to be distributed post-death.
- If you die without composing a will, the government will declare your assets as intestate.
- The state law would be the sole determiner regarding the distribution of an intestate.
- The process of distributing the assets based on a will is called probate.
- You can compose a will without the help of a lawyer.
- Online will services are also available to help you compose a will.
2. Power of Attorney
- It is the power that one can give another one to make decisions on their behalf.
- A person with Power of Attorney can make medical, financial, and legal decisions for the entrusted person.
- A person who holds the Power of Attorney of another person is called an Agent.
- In the absence of an agent, the court can help appoint one for you.
- The power enjoyed by the agent will only be limited and durable.
- A legally valid contract.
- The grantor will allow another person to hold property for them.
- The person who is given the right to hold property is called the trustee.
- Any form of assets can be transferred to trusts.
- Trusts are helpful when the rightful receiver is a minor. The trustee keeps the property until the minor reaches the legal age to hold property.
- There are different types of trusts, like living trusts and testamentary trusts.
HIPAA authorization, inventory of physical assets, tax documents, health care directives, etc., are other vital documents essential for estate planning.
Common Estate Planning Mistakes
Before proceeding to the estate planning checklist, it is essential to identify some common estate planning mistakes. These mistakes cancel the efficiency of estate planning and, thus, should be avoided at any cost.
- The first and foremost mistake is not to do estate planning. This could make the asset distribution process much more chaotic after your death.
- Not considering the possibility of being incapacitated is another common mistake. You have to prepare a power of attorney, trusts, etc., to manage things if you are in an unhealthy state in the future.
- Not sharing your estate plan details with your family can be a significant mistake. You should at least share the details with your attorney and the basic things they must follow to implement the estate plan.
- Not having multiple beneficiaries can be a severe mistake in estate planning. Often, people put up a single person as the beneficiary. But you have to be prepared for any uncertain situations and, thus, should keep at least a second person as the next beneficiary.
- Not changing an old estate plan is another common mistake. Many people prepare an estate plan and then keep it the same. However, updating the estate plan once a year is essential to make practical changes, additions, omissions, etc.
- Many grantors often forget about their digital assets. That is their social media platforms, digital presence, etc. If you are serious about your digital presence, you should consider documenting the receiver of your media accounts post-death.
- Not including your end-of-care expenses is a severe mistake with estate planning. If you have to spend a significant amount of time in bed before death, you must allot enough funds for your care and medical expenses.
Estate Planning Checklist
Major planning is the key to effective estate planning. Here is a complete checklist to help you make a highly effective estate plan.
1. Making an Inventory
Making an inventory or list of all valuable items you have is the most essential thing to do. Everything from jewelry to tools to furniture should be on the list. To make things easier, you can also put the names of the persons you want to give each item in the inventory.
It is essential to separate your list into tangible and intangible assets. The tangible assets include:
- Real Estate
- Any other valuable physical item
The intangible assets include:
- Savings accounts
- Certificates of deposits
- Life insurance policies
- Stocks, mutual funds, etc.
- Retirement accounts
- Business ownerships
- Any other non-physical items
You should also make a separate list for charity. It is necessary only if you plan to donate something to charity. Making a digital list with enough pictures would be ideal.
A digital inventory is much easier and more convenient. You can even change the list continuously if it is a digital one.
2. Making a List of Family Members
Making a list of your family members and other beneficiaries is helpful during estate planning. It will also help with keeping up with the items that you have allotted to each one.
Many people now include their pets in the family will. If you also want to do the same, list your pets.
3. Make a List of Liabilities
Liabilities are as crucial as assets. If you die before composing a proper estate plan on dealing with your assets and liabilities, your dear ones may find it challenging to sort out the liabilities and debts. So, you should list down your debts and liabilities, even if they are of a small amount.
The significant liabilities that you have to list down include:
- Vehicle loans
- Open credit lines
- Credit card debts
While preparing the liability list, note down the information on your debt amount, the required documents, the location of the documents, etc.
4. List the Directives You Want
As mentioned before in the article, there are various documents like Power of Attorney, trust, will, etc., that a grantor can use in the estate plan. You have to list the directives you will use in your estate plan.
If you plan to add these directives to your estate plan, you must ask the permission of the person/persons you plan to make the agent and trustee. You have to note their details in the list to make things easier in the future.
5. Make Multiple Copies of the List
You have to make at least three copies of all your lists. You should give one to your estate administrator or attorney. The next one should be given to your close kin or partner. And you should keep the third one with you.
6. Updating the Accounts and Policies
All kinds of deposit accounts, insurance policies, etc., ask for a nominee or beneficiary at the beginning stage itself. You must ensure that you have added the right beneficiaries to each account.
It remains invalid even if you add a new beneficiary to these accounts in your estate plan. So, you must check all the beneficiary details in all your accounts and policies. You can make changes and update the documents if necessary.
Remarried or divorced people have to pay much attention to this aspect as mistakes like these are pretty common among them. Such errors can later lead to significant conflicts.
7. Authorizing ‘Transfer on Death’
The probate process is pretty time-consuming and complex, even if you have a well-written estate plan. The best way to simplify it is to authorize your estate plan's 'transfer on death' clause.
When you authorize this clause, your belongings will immediately be transferred to your beneficiaries once your death happens. The beneficiaries could save good money by avoiding the probate process. You can consult your bank authorities to make this authorization.
8. Picking an Estate Administrator
The executor or estate administrator will be in charge of executing your estate plan after your death. Finding the right person for this role is crucial as the estate distribution process is too complex. A responsible and resourceful person will be the right choice for such a serious role.
You can choose any person you think will be impartial and efficient in the execution as your estate administrator. Many people pick their spouses for the role. However, selecting a person who is not influenced by personal emotions is advisable.
9. Drafting the Will
This is one of the most critical stages of estate planning. You can designate each asset to any beneficiary. You should also provide details on who should get the custodianship if a minor is involved. Decisions regarding the ownership of the pets should also be there in the will.
If you plan on giving a part of your assets and properties to any organizations or charities, you should state it clearly in your will to avoid any future conflicts. Your attorney would be the right person to help you compose your will effectively.
After composing your will, you should date and sign it with two non-related witnesses present. Their signature should also be in the will. Make sure to notarize the will after completion.
The most important thing with a will is to share its location with one or more close kin.
10. Complete Other Documents
If you are including a Power of Attorney, trust, etc., in your estate plan, you should work on them also. Collect the consent of the individuals you plan to make the trustee and agent in these documents.
You can also make personal documents or instructions that contain any of your personal wishes, like the way the funeral has to be conducted or what to do if you are in a vegetative state for a long time, etc.
Checklist for Post-Estate Planning
The estate planning process does not stop once you prepare all the necessary documents. You have to manage and maintain certain things to make the best out of your estate plan. They are as follows.
1. Reviewing the Documents
Make sure that you are reviewing all your documents at least once in a year. Especially if you are going through significant changes like remarriage, divorce, etc., you must update all your records, including your estate plan.
Chances are there for you to change your personal preferences after a while. In such cases, reviewing the documents and estate plan would only be beneficial.
The significant documents that you have to review occasionally include:
- Healthcare preferences
- Assets and liabilities
- Tax documents
- Inheritance documents
- Personal wishes, etc.
2. Consulting a Financial Planner
Consulting a financial planner would be ideal if you want to confirm whether your will is viable. A financial planner could give you feedback on the positives and negatives of your drafted will. You can make necessary changes if there are any.
You can also consider adding additional life insurance that would help your loved ones with the probate process and other legal expenses.
Disclaimer: The above is a sponsored post, the views expressed are those of the sponsor/author and do not represent the stand and views of Outlook Editorial.