Estate Planning Checklist

How do you want to be remembered?

Estate planning. You know it is something you need to do, but it sounds overwhelming. Where do you start? What information do you need?

Estate planning doesn’t have to be an obstacle you fear. Taken one step at a time, it is manageable and easier to accomplish than you think. Peace of mind for you and your family is waiting on the other side.

Start with 4 easy steps:

With appropriate time and planning, creating and maintaining your estate is easier than you think. By breaking it down into four easy steps, you can stay on track and make your planning more manageable.

1. Gather your documents

  • Your birth certificate.
  • Copies of trust agreements for any trusts you’ve created.
  • Copies of any pre- or post-nuptial agreements.
  • Documents distinguishing community property from non-community property.
  • Description of any pre-made funeral arrangements.
  • Most recent will or living trust, including codicils.
  • Copies of any health or financial powers of attorney given by you.
  • Name(s) of deceased or former spouses, including copies of documents that could help determine if that person(s) has any inheritance rights.
  • Copies of gift tax returns.

2. Determine the key facts

  • List of immediate family members (spouse, mother, father, children, siblings), including names, addresses, dates of birth. Indicate if any children are adopted.
  • List of business interests: estimated values, portion you own, and copies of any relevant agreements, e.g., buy/sell
  • State of your legal residence.
  • List of in-state real estate, including ownership, title, improvements, value, mortgages.
  • List of out-of-state property, including ownership, title, improvements, value, mortgages.
  • List of royalties and patents you own, including the nature and value of each.
  • Special issues affecting your beneficiaries, such as mental or physical disabilities, marital issues, or money management issues.
  • Information about your employee benefits: retirement plan, life insurance, health benefits, etc.
  • List of life insurance policies and commercial annuities, including policy number, value, ownership, beneficiaries.

3. Calculate your net worth

Make a comprehensive list of everything you own (assets), how it is owned (jointly with your spouse or alone), and your debts (liabilities).

  • Assets include things like your primary residence and other real estate, CDs, insurance policies, bank accounts, stocks and bonds, retirement accounts, antiques and artwork, personal possessions, potential inheritances, and annuities.
  • Liabilities include mortgages, loans, IOUs and other debts.

Next, total your assets and subtract your liabilities to determine your net worth.

4. Think about your estate goals

Now that you’ve got a handle on what you own and how you own it, it is time to think about how you want to distribute it and what you hope it will accomplish. This is often the hardest part of estate planning—but also the most exciting! Many people say their goal is to pay as little in taxes as possible. But, beyond that, what would like to accomplish? In other words, what kind of legacy do you want to leave?

Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself:

  • How and to whom do you want your assets distributed? Are there family heirlooms, jewelry, artwork, etc., that you want specific children or other heirs to have?
  • Does one of your children need more assistance than the others? Do you want to set something up in your will to address this situation?
  • If all of your beneficiaries pass away before you do, how do you want your assets distributed?
  • Minimizing estate and income taxes is important. Have you explored how proper planning, trusts, and charitable gifts can help accomplish this goal?
  • Are you interested in leaving a legacy to a charitable organization you care about?

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