Estate Planning Checklist

The following checklist summarizes several actions and tools you may find helpful in planning your estate.

1. Make or update your will. A will allows you to determine what will happen to your money and possessions and who will become the guardian of your children when you die. If you die without a will, the state will make those important decisions for you.

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As part of creating your will, you may also need to:

  • Calculate your net worth, including life insurance proceeds.  List all of your financial assets.  Make sure you include your account numbers as well as pertinent information about your investments, bank accounts, and insurance policies.

2. Make a living will.  A living will enables you to determine your medical destiny in the event that you are so ill that you cannot voice your wishes yourself.

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3. Buy or update your life insurance.  Life insurance provides your loved ones with an immediate source of cash that is exempt from federal and state income tax (although it is typically subject to estate taxes).  It is important to review your beneficiary designations and coverage amounts every two or three years to ensure that your policies accurately reflect your needs and wishes.

4. Consider buying health/medical insurance.  There are 3 major types of coverage that help protect and stretch your assets:

  • Long-Term Care: enables you to cover the cost of long-term health care in your home or at a long-term care facility
  • Major Medical: protects you against the ever-rising cost of medical care in the event of a major medical expense (e.g. surgery)
  • Disability: helps protect your income if you can no longer work

5. Establish a trust.  A trust is a legal document that describes when and how specified property should be distributed. Trusts can help you avoid probate, reduce estate tax liability, and protect the property in your estate.

6. Create a letter of instruction.  With this document, you can effectively articulate your funeral wishes, where your important documents can be found, and the names and phone numbers of people to contact in the event of your death. This letter should be used to provide instructions for actions that may need to be carried out before your will is read, especially in the event that probate is necessary. Components you may want to incorporate in this letter include (but are not limited to):

  • List your personal data.  This might include your Social Security number, driver’s license number, VA claim number, date of birth, and the names and phone numbers of immediate family members.

  • List the location of valuable documents.  Your list might include deeds, car titles, military records, birth and marriage certificates, divorce decrees, tax records and other estate planning documents.

  • Make arrangements for access to your safe-deposit box.  In many states, safe-deposit boxes are closed upon death and are not opened until probate.  Make sure that copies of your will and other important documents are available outside your safe-deposit box.

  • Provide a family member or a close friend with the location of confidential or valuable items you have in safekeeping.  Also tell that person the location of spare keys and security codes.

  • List loan payments.  This should include credit cards, mortgages, consumer loans, automobile loans and other personal loans.

  • Funeral preplanning.  Determine how your remains will be disposed of after your death. You may also include this information in your will.

  • Provide the name of your veterinarian and care instructions for pets.
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