Estate Planning Checklist for Families:

Everything You Need To Know About Wills, Trusts, and Power of Attorney

Estate planning is the process of making decisions about how you want your assets and affairs to be handled after you pass away. While it may seem daunting at first, it is an important step in ensuring that your wishes are carried out. Perhaps more importantly, estate planning is a final gift to your loved ones. This gift ensures they have a clear path forward when you are no longer here to be there for them.

Estate planning doesn't have to involve lengthy meetings with lawyers in stuffy offices while everyone wears a suite and tie. In fact, there are many straightforward ways to create an estate plan that meets your needs and goals. This can include creating a will, setting up a trust, designating beneficiaries for your assets, and establishing powers of attorney for healthcare and financial matters. This free estate planning guide is here to help you with the do's and don'ts of proper planning!

What is Estate Planning?

By taking the time to create an estate plan, you can provide peace of mind for yourself and your loved ones. It allows you to make important decisions about your assets and healthcare while you are still able to do so, and ensures that your wishes are carried out in the event of your passing. Estate planning can also help minimize taxes and avoid potential conflicts among family members. If this feels stressful or not fun to do now, imagine how challenging it would be if you were sick, dying, or had other bad news. The point is - we can't control what will happen in the future. But we can control if we choose to do estate planning now.

An estate planning attorney can help you navigate the complexities of estate planning and create a plan that is customized to your unique circumstances. They can assist you in drafting important documents such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and healthcare directives. These documents can help ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes, that your healthcare preferences are honored, and that your financial affairs are managed in the event of incapacity.

By working with an estate planning attorney, you can also take steps to minimize estate taxes and avoid probate, which can save your loved ones time and money in the long run. Additionally, an estate plan can provide protection for your assets from creditors and ensure that your beneficiaries are provided for in the way you intended.

By taking the time to create a comprehensive estate plan with the help of a qualified attorney, you can provide yourself and your loved ones with the security and peace of mind they deserve. Thanks to online resources, it’s easier to ensure that you have a competent and resourceful attorney putting your plan in place. Planning your estate is one of the best things (and greatest gifts) you can do for your loved ones.

This serves as a guide for you. This printable estate planning checklist PDF serves to make sure that you have all of your bases covered when it comes to yourself and your family.

Free Estate Planning Checklist PDF (Download and Print It!)

Last Will and Testament

A will is a legal document that allows you to specify how you want your assets and property to be distributed after your death. By creating a will, you can ensure that your belongings are passed on to the individuals or organizations of your choosing. This can include family members, friends, charities, or any other beneficiaries you wish to include. When people pass away without a will, the statutes of that state ultimately control who the beneficiaries will be. A will also allows you to designate guardians for any minor children and specify any other wishes you may have regarding your estate.

Creating a will is an important step in estate planning and can provide peace of mind knowing that your wishes will be carried out after you are gone. This includes your physical belongings (also known as personal property), like your house and personal items, and your financial assets, like bank accounts and investments. Some people choose to set up testamentary trusts through their wills, which can be an effective option in certain states, especially when looking to help children and other dependents in your family.​

Revocable Living Trust

A revocable living trust is a legal arrangement that allows you to transfer ownership of your assets to a trustee during your lifetime, and then distribute those assets to your beneficiaries after you pass away. Unlike a will, a revocable living trust allows you to avoid the probate process, which can be time-consuming and costly. The points below are part of our living trust checklist PDF (if you print it!) and serve to help you understand why a trust might be right for you!

One of the main benefits of a revocable living trust is that it allows for greater privacy, as the trust document is not a matter of public record like a will. Additionally, a revocable living trust can provide for the management of your assets in the event of your incapacity, as the trustee can step in to handle your affairs if you become unable to do so yourself.

Another advantage of a revocable living trust is that it can help to minimize estate taxes and protect your assets from creditors. By placing your assets in a trust, you can ensure that they are distributed according to your wishes and are not subject to the claims of creditors.

Overall, a revocable living trust can be a valuable tool for estate planning, providing flexibility, privacy, and protection for your assets both during your lifetime and after your death. Many people debate which is better - trust vs will. It is important to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to create a trust that meets your specific needs and goals. This trust lets you control your property while you’re alive and pass it on without going through probate.

Beneficiary Designations

When a person passes away, their assets typically go through a legal process called probate, where a court oversees the distribution of the deceased person's assets to their heirs or beneficiaries. However, some assets are able to bypass probate and go directly to a designated beneficiary. These assets include life insurance policies, retirement accounts with named beneficiaries, payable-on-death bank accounts, and assets held in a living trust.

By designating beneficiaries for these assets, the transfer of ownership can occur quickly and efficiently without the need for probate court involvement. This can help streamline the inheritance process and ensure that the intended beneficiaries receive their assets in a timely manner. It is important to review and update beneficiary designations regularly to ensure that assets are distributed according to your wishes. These assets include 401(k) accounts, pensions, and life insurance policies.

Advance Healthcare Directive / Living Will

An advance healthcare directive is a legal document that allows you to specify your wishes for medical treatment in the event that you are unable to communicate or make decisions for yourself. This document typically includes a living will, which outlines the types of medical treatments you do or do not want to receive, such as life-sustaining measures or palliative care.

In addition to a living will, an advance healthcare directive also includes a medical power of attorney, also known as a healthcare proxy. This allows you to appoint a trusted individual to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. This person will act as your advocate and ensure that your wishes are respected and followed by healthcare providers.

Having an advance healthcare directive in place can provide peace of mind for both you and your loved ones, as it ensures that your preferences for medical care are known and respected, even if you are unable to communicate them yourself. It is important to discuss your wishes with your designated healthcare proxy and loved ones, so they are aware of your preferences and can advocate for you effectively in the event of a medical crisis.​

Financial Power of Attorney (POA)

A financial power of attorney (which can be set up as a durable power of attorney) is a legal document that allows you to designate someone to make financial decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated or unable to manage your own finances. This person, known as your agent or attorney-in-fact, will have the authority to handle a wide range of financial matters on your behalf, including paying bills, managing bank accounts, making investment decisions, and handling real estate transactions.

Having a financial power of attorney in place can provide peace of mind knowing that someone you trust will be able to step in and manage your financial affairs if you are unable to do so yourself. It is important to choose someone who is trustworthy, responsible, and capable of handling financial matters in your best interests.

It is also important to carefully consider the scope of authority you grant to your agent in the financial power of attorney document. You can limit the powers granted to your agent to specific financial tasks or give them broad authority to handle all aspects of your finances. It is a good idea to discuss your wishes and expectations with your chosen agent and make sure they understand their responsibilities and obligations under the financial power of attorney.

​Overall, a financial power of attorney is an important tool for ensuring that your financial affairs are properly managed in the event of incapacity or disability. It is a key component of a comprehensive estate plan and can help protect your financial interests and assets during challenging times.

Financial Power of Attorney (POA)

Do your family a favor and keep your insurance policy documents organized and in one place. This includes policies for life insurance, health insurance, car insurance, and home insurance. By keeping these documents together, you can easily access them in case of an emergency or when you need to review your coverage.

In addition to your insurance policies, it is also a good idea to keep a list of all your financial accounts and how to access them. This can include bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, and any other financial accounts you may have. By keeping this information handy, you can quickly access your accounts and manage your finances more effectively.

By keeping all of your insurance policy documents and financial account information together, you can stay organized and prepared for any unexpected events that may arise. It is important to regularly review and update this information to ensure that you have the coverage you need and can easily access your financial accounts when necessary. This includes bank accounts, credit cards, mortgages, loans, tax returns, pensions, retirement benefits, and investments. Store this information in an Excel spreadsheet or a notebook with your estate planning documents.

It is important to have the title and deed documents for all of your property to prove ownership and protect your investment. This includes not only your primary residence, but also any secondary homes, rental properties, vehicles, and other real estate assets you may own. These documents serve as legal proof of ownership and are essential for transferring ownership, obtaining financing, and resolving any disputes that may arise. It is recommended to keep these documents in a safe and secure location, such as a safe deposit box or fireproof safe, to prevent loss or damage.

Additionally, it is a good idea to regularly review and update these documents as needed to ensure they accurately reflect your current ownership status. By maintaining these important documents, you can have peace of mind knowing that your property rights are protected. If you create a revocable living trust, transfer your property to the trust so it can skip probate. The trust should be listed as the owner on deeds and titles.

Digital Account Logins and Passwords

In today's digital age, it is common for individuals to have numerous online accounts for various services and platforms. From social media accounts to online banking and shopping accounts, the average person may have a multitude of usernames and passwords to remember.

To help manage this overwhelming amount of login information, it is highly recommended to consider using a password manager or digital vault. These tools securely store all of your passwords in one place, allowing you to easily access them whenever needed.

Password managers also have the added benefit of generating strong, unique passwords for each of your accounts, reducing the risk of a security breach due to using the same password across multiple platforms. Additionally, many password managers offer features such as auto-fill and password sharing, making the process of logging in to your accounts even more convenient.

By utilizing a password manager or digital vault, you can ensure that your online accounts are secure and easily accessible, without the need to remember multiple complex passwords. It is a simple yet effective way to streamline your digital life and protect your sensitive information from potential cyber threats. You can also name a digital executor in your will to handle your digital assets and accounts after you die.

Funeral Instructions and Wishes

It is important to communicate your burial wishes to your loved ones so that they can honor your final wishes. Whether you prefer a traditional burial, cremation, or another form of burial, it is essential to make your preferences known. Additionally, you can also specify any other wishes you may have for your funeral, such as specific readings, music, or other personal touches that you would like to have included in the service.

In addition to your burial preferences, you can also express any desires you may have for donations to be made to your favorite charities in lieu of flowers. This allows you to leave a lasting impact and support causes that are important to you even after you have passed away.

By clearly communicating your wishes for your burial and funeral arrangements, you can ensure that your loved ones are able to honor your memory in a way that is meaningful and respectful to you. It can also provide them with guidance and peace of mind during a difficult time.

What To Do Once You Have Your Documents

It is important to store your estate planning documents in a safe and accessible place. This ensures that your loved ones can easily locate them when needed. It is also crucial to inform your family members or trusted individuals about the location of these documents. This will help them in executing your wishes and managing your assets according to your instructions.

In addition to informing your loved ones about the whereabouts of your estate planning documents, it is advisable to provide copies to individuals who may need them. This could include your attorney, financial advisor, or executor of your will. By sharing copies of these important documents with relevant parties, you can ensure that your wishes are carried out smoothly and efficiently.

​By taking these steps to store and share your estate planning documents, you can provide peace of mind to yourself and your loved ones. It is a responsible and thoughtful way to plan for the future and ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes. For example, your healthcare agent should have a copy of your advance healthcare directive.

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