A checklist for estate planning

Natalia Vander Laan

Natalia Vander Laan

Oftentimes, while a person understands the importance of estate planning, they do not know what to do to prepare for it. Consequently, this valuable tool gets delayed indefinitely to the detriment of one’s family in the future. However, there are many things a person can accomplish toward their estate planning, even before an appointment with an attorney, to get the proverbial ball rolling.

The first thing to do, unsurprisingly, is to gather and organize personal information, including that regarding one’s assets and debts. The following information and documents should be collected: birth certificate; social security card; premarital agreement, marriage certificate, and divorce decree; premarital agreement; home and vehicle titles; investment, checking, and savings accounts; retirement plans and employee benefits information; previous years’ tax returns; insurance policies; business documents; debts owed or due; and, the names, addresses, and phone numbers of persons who will become fiduciaries and/or beneficiaries.

Next, it is important to create a list of people who, in case of one’s incapacity or death, would oversee the personal finances, business management, and estate administration, and make health decisions and even take custody of any minor children. Via estate planning documents, these designated, trusted persons can be given the legal authority to act on one’s behalf. Otherwise, a judge may appoint who those persons will be. Typically, the first choice is a spouse. It is prudent, however, to designate at least one alternative fiduciary. Lastly, the issues related to health-care decisions and financial matters should be discussed with such fiduciaries so one’s desires are clearly understood.

A small business owner should ensure a business succession strategy as a part of the estate plan. Contingencies should be designed for winding down the business, collecting accounts receivables, and finishing projects. Alternatively, a buyback agreement for partners, if there are any, should be created.

One of the main parts of estate planning is deciding how one’s assets will be distributed upon death. While finalizing this decision requires consideration, consultation, and oftentimes modifications to the original plan, it is important to have a general sense of one’s intent in order to benefit best from the appointment with an attorney.

Parents should consider setting up their estate plan in a manner that protects their children’s inheritance from creditors or from frivolous spending. While an attorney can offer various solutions, the parents should decide at which age their children should receive their inheritance and what conditions should be met prior to that.

Some things can be accomplished without an attorney’s help. Life insurance and disability insurance, both crucial investments especially if one has minor children, can be easily procured with the assistance of an insurance broker. Furthermore, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, investment accounts, bank accounts, and even vehicles, can have a designated beneficiary. This allows loved ones to avoid probate by having the assets transfer to the intended beneficiary automatically.

Organizing one’s documents and information is the first step toward a comprehensive estate plan. Imaginably, it would be difficult for a relative, a friend, or even a court-appointed representative to gather everything that is required upon one’s death. That is why it important not to delay estate planning.


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