Tips & Checklists

What to Include in Your Estate Planning Checklist

estate planning checklist

Creating an estate planning checklist helps ensure everything is in order and accessible — either for yourself, or your boomer parents. Bringing up estate planning with your family can feel awkward, but getting everyone’s end-of-life ducks in a row is important. Also, knowing that all your financial affairs are in order and your wishes will be honored can be very satisfying. 

Estate Planning Checklist Must-Haves

Here are six crucial pieces of paperwork to create, review, or discuss with your advisor during the estate planning process.

1. A Will

This is a document that says, essentially, who gets what when you pass away. You’ll name an executor of your estate in the drafting process — this is the person who oversees the distribution of your assets by following the specific instructions in your will. If you have minor children, you also name a guardian for them at this time. Preparing your will should involve a lawyer who specializes in estate planning. If you don’t have a will, the state will decide who inherits your assets without regard to your final wishes, so it is important to tackle this piece of the estate planning checklist first.

2. An Advance Healthcare Directive

This gives the person you name the power to make medical decisions based on your wishes when you lose the ability to do so. While it may be easier to avoid thinking about this circumstance, being clear ahead of time about what you want—and who you want in the driver’s seat — can help your family members avoid a lot of heartache down the road.

3. A Power of Attorney Form

This document names someone who may attend to your financial matters in the event you’re unable to do so. This person will be able to, for example, pay your mortgage, sign your tax returns, and sell your assets, if needed.

4. Account Statements

Your heirs cannot inherit funds or assets that nobody knows about. For the items listed below that apply to you, gather all relevant documents together in one place:

  • bank account statements (checking and/or savings)
  • IRA and/or Roth IRA accounts
  • brokerage account
  • 401(k) account statements
  • all auto-pay accounts with name and contact information for each payee
  • safe-deposit box information, including a copy of your contract
  • pension documents
  • annuity contracts
  • savings bonds
  • life insurance policies
  • tax returns
  • housing deeds
  • mortgage payments/accounts
  • vehicle titles
  • marriage license
  • military discharge information
  • long-term care insurance policies

6. Your Beneficiary Forms

When you signed up for your company’s 401(k) retirement plan, opened a bank account, or started an IRA, you were asked to fill out a form designating a beneficiary. This is the person who gets your money when you pass on — usually your spouse, child, or other relative. Review these forms occasionally to ensure they accurately reflect your current wishes. Often, the beneficiary form will hold more weight legally than what’s in your will. For this reason, you should make copies of your beneficiary forms to keep with your other important documents.

5. A Trust (Optional)

A trust can hold cash, stocks, life insurance and real estate. People with larger estates establish trusts to ensure everything is handled correctly after their deaths. Trusts are expensive to set up, so you only need to go down this path if you have an estate valued at over $5.45 million (the amount above which your heirs are subject to the estate tax). There are a few other circumstances make trusts advisable: if you want your heirs to avoid probate, have a disabled relative, or want someone other than your heirs to manage your assets.

Get Someone You Trust To Help Gather Your Estate Planning Checklist Documents

Having all this information together in one estate planning checklist will eliminate a lot of headaches for your executor. Though the estate planning checklist seems long, remember — you don’t have to assemble everything in one afternoon. Take your time and be thorough as you gather each piece. Talk it through with your spouse, or work on ordering everything with a grown child or other trusted individual. Finally, work with a financial advisor to make sure you’re not missing anything important on your estate planning checklist.

Leslie Sullivan
Exclusively covering all finance-related topics, including investing, saving money, estate planning, insurance, lowering your tax burden and everything you need to know about planning a comfortable retirement.
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