The Ultimate Estate Planning Checklist

the ultimate estate planning checklist

Estate planning is an essential part of any adult’s life plan. At its most basic, good estate planning ensures your finances, property, collectibles, valuables, sentimental possessions, and other assets are distributed according to your wishes.

Estate plans also encompass a range of other scenarios that can come up in the course of a lifetime, including:

  • Choosing a durable power of attorney to handle things if/when you’re incapacitated
  • Completing an advance medical directive
  • Providing instructions for pets that depend on you
  • Distributing funds to charities
  • Creating a living trust to save money on taxes
  • And more

While you can do a basic DIY will or estate plan, we recommend consulting with an experienced Bay Area estate planning attorney at least once to ensure your documents are legally sound. Failure to do so can erase all your hard work if the estate is sent into probate.

Checklist of Estate Plan Considerations

Here is a checklist of items to consider as you gather your paperwork and get ready to create the first draft of your estate plan. Putting as much as you can together and discussing some of these main topics or tenets of a complete estate plan makes your time with an estate lawyer more efficient.

Keep an estate planning glossary handy

It is a good idea to keep an estate planning glossary nearby as you move through your estate plan, or review documents and information provided by your attorney. This area of law has its own terminology so it’s nice to have a clear understanding of common terms and phrases.

Visit our Estate Planning Glossary and bookmark the page as you create your own plan or list of things to go over with an attorney.

A list of all of your assets

Make a list of all of your assets. You might be surprised with all that you have to pass on to others. Assets span the gamut of both tangible and intangible items.

In addition to the obvious financial, retirement, and investment accounts or properties (Click Here to learn about property memorandums), you also want to include:

  • Digital assets
  • Heirlooms
  • Collectibles
  • Cars and toys
  • Art
  • Items with specific sentimental value to you or to someone you love

You should also have a list of all of your online accounts and passwords so your trustee/executor can access them and make changes, close accounts, send messages as needed, and so on.

Read our post, Which Assets Go Through Probate and Which Don’t for a more detailed explanation.

Begin thinking about who the trustee/executor should be

Do not assume that your eldest child, male sibling, or spouse should be the trustee or executor of the estate. The person who should take on that responsibility (and it is a big one, especially for larger or more complicated estates) needs to have a specific skill set:

  • The ability to honor your wishes regardless of his/her feelings
  • Objectivity and big picture thinking
  • Attention to detail
  • Ability to keep on the estate distribution deadlines
  • A financial head for bills, taxes, payments, etc.

Visit Naming a Trustee is a Big Decision to learn more about how to make the best decision for your estate, and don’t forget that an estate attorney or law firm may be the most objective way to go.

Learn more about advance medical directives

Most people put off creating a will, trust, or estate plan because they don’t want to think about their death or feel that death is a long way off. However, some of the most important aspects of your plan have nothing to do with your death.

These special aspects of the estate plan provide instructions for how things should be handled if you are incapacitated and either can’t make decisions for yourself or are out of the country and cannot make important payments, legal decisions, etc.

Advance medical directives fall into this category, and it is essential that everyone from young singles on up have these important documents in place and that your plans/wishes are communicated to those who are closest to you.

Click Here to print out a basic medical directive that stands on its own as a legal document in the state of California. If you decide to put together a more complete estate plan, your lawyer may create addendums or create a new and more detailed version to cover additional potential scenarios. Make copies and give them to your immediate loved ones, partner, best friend, etc., and go over them so everyone understands your intentions.

Choose a POA (or DPOA)

A power of attorney is a person who you’ve selected to make legal and business decisions for you if you are incapacitated or physically unavailable when a major decision needs to be made or signature issued. For some, a POA may be the same person you’ve named on your Advance Medical Directive – or it may not be. You can review, Why Your Estate Plan Needs a Durable Power of Attorney, for more specifics.

Generally, a power of attorney (POA) is someone you select to make important decisions and the scenarios and how much authority that individual has is determined specifically in the paperwork. A durable power of attorney (DPOA) is able to make all of your decisions if you are medically or mentally incapacitated or unable to speak for yourself.

Address personal or family-specific considerations

Families have always been complicated, but prior to the social acceptance of divorces, remarriages, and blended families, estate planning used to be more straightforward. Scan this list and see if any of them apply to you:

Estate planning moves that save money now

Again, estate planning isn’t just about “when you die.” A thorough review of your estate and assets by an estate planning law firm may create a means for saving you and your beneficiaries right now.

Creating certain trusts (charitable trusts, living trusts, etc.), can change the way your estate is taxed now and in the future, which can make a positive financial impact. We will help you learn more about estate taxes and distributions and set your estate up in a way that supports its financial health for the long run.

Set an annual calendar date to review the estate plan

Life moves fast and things can change quickly. An outdated estate plan may wind up in probate if it is not reviewed and updated on a regular basis. Some clients use the week of New Year’s or their birthdays to revisit their estate plans, wills, and/or trusts. Others choose a quiet time of year on the calendar. Meeting annually or every couple of years with your estate planning lawyer is the best way to ensure everything is accurate and completely up to date.

We’re Here To Help You

Would you like some support navigating your estate plans and creating a customized estate planning checklist? Schedule a consultation with Tseng Law Firm.