Estate planning is a necessary part of life. Studies have shown that less than one-third of American adults have a will (according to a study from Caring.com). However, all adults need an estate plan. Unfortunately, this is even more true during our current times with the Covid-19 crises. That means, there are a lot of you who need to plan your estate now. For most of us, our estate plan will not be put to use for many years. We never know when our estate plan will be needed, and it is much better for your heirs if you have carefully created an estate plan before it is needed.
If you do not already have an estate plan, I urge you to take the time, as soon as possible, to create one. If you have one, make sure it is current and up to date. Moreover, if you have any financial accounts including retirement plans, insurance plans, or bank accounts, make sure your beneficiaries are up to date too. Please don’t be like my loved one who never updated his beneficiaries after he got married and had a child. He died too young and never changed his beneficiaries, meaning his son did not receive the assets from his estate that he wanted him to receive.
I hope I have convinced you to think about your estate plan, and below, I outline the 7 essential steps of estate planning.
Step 1: Identify Your Possessions
Regardless of the size of your estate, everything and anything you own is part of your estate. Making a list of everything you own is the first step of your estate plan. You need to record and keep track of online accounts and login information. Determine whether to store your inventory online or on paper. It may seem easier for you to have paper copies of everything, but consider accessibility needs for your executor and heirs. We recommend utilizing a safe, online storage system, such as our Probate Inventory or Probate Vault. Record the actual value of your home, any other real estate you own, and all other property including cars, jewelry, artwork, and other physical assets.
Step 2: Draft Your Estate Plan
Consider your wishes before meeting with an estate planning attorney. It is a good idea to have a plan in mind regarding what you want to do with your assets. You will need to think through issues such as: Who will be your estate executor/personal representative?; Who will take care of your children?; How much money do you want to leave your heirs?; and Do you want to leave money to charitable causes?
Step 3: Meet with Your Financial Planner to Discuss Estate Planning
Yes, we suggest meeting with a financial planner before you meet with your attorney. Your financial planner will help you determine the best way to fund your estate so that your wishes are met. Your attorney will help you create the legal documents for this plan to take effect. If you don’t have a financial planner, it is a good idea to find one who is well versed in estate planning. Probate Executors can help connect you with a financial planner in your area. Take your notes and information from your estate planning thus far to your meeting with your financial planner.
Step 4: Find an Estate Attorney
We see many people go to a family member or friend who is not experienced in estate planning for estate planning legal advice. Please do not make this mistake. We also see attorneys marketing themselves as estate planning attorneys who do not have much experience in this area. You should go to an estate planning attorney who specializes in estate planning and who lives in your area. Be wary of online estate planning. You need someone who knows the law relevant to your location. You may also want to reach out to several attorneys to find one who is a good fit for your needs.
Step 5: Meet with your Attorney
Your attorney should recommend a variety of documents depending on your state’s laws and your needs. These may include a will, a living will, and a power of attorney. You may also want to create a revocable (living) trust.
Step 6: Finalize Your Estate Planning
If you have created a trust, you may need to rename the trust as the beneficiary so that it is properly funded. Your estate attorney can assist with this, and it is important that you remember to do this step. Tell your loved ones where they can find your legal documents and your inventory. Probate Executor’s Probate Vault and Probate Inventory make this easy for your loved ones.
Step 7: Update Your Estate Plan Regularly
It is important to keep your estate plan updated. Things like account information and passwords can change frequently, so it is important to make sure those are updated in your records. If you buy or sell any major assets, you will want to make sure that is included in your plan. In addition, if you go through any major life changes, you will definitely need to make changes to your plan. This includes changes in marital status (marriage or divorce), adding children to your family, etc. Having your estate plan online makes it easier to manage. Check out our Probate Vault and Probate Inventory to assist you with this.