Lawyer working on estate planning

Your Estate Planning Checklist

January 13th, 2021 by Bunch & Brock

Lawyer working on estate planning

New Year’s is a perfect time to take a snapshot of your future goals, including evaluating the status of your estate plan.  Whether you already have an estate plan that needs to be updated or you are just starting to explore the idea of creating a will, the beginning of a new year is the perfect time to tackle your estate planning checklist.

Your estate planning checklist should contain most or all of the following documents:

  1. Will
  2. Durable Power of Attorney
  3. Advance Healthcare Directive
  4. Healthcare Power of Attorney
  5. Trusts
  6. Guardianship Designations
  7. Beneficiary Designations
  8. Letter of Intent

Of course, every estate plan will be different and should be customized to an individual and their family, and it may even include their business.  A skilled and experienced estate planning attorney can help you determine which documents you need based on your unique circumstances.  Everything from crafting a power of attorney to naming an executor should be well thought out and part of a bigger plan.  The skilled attorneys at Bunch and Brock have decades of experience in helping clients create meaningful estate plans that will provide for  their families well into the future.  To find out more about how we can help, call us at 859-254-5522.

What should be in your estate planning checklist?

Following are the documents that should be in your estate planning checklist:

  1. WILL 

    Every estate plan should contain a will.  This is the most fundamental document in a plan where you outline how and to whom you want your assets distributed when you die.  Assets can include bank and investment accounts, insurance policies, real estate, retirement benefits, and personal property, such as jewelry, vehicles and sentimental items.

  2. DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY

    A durable power of attorney designates a person or agent you have chosen to make decisions on your behalf in the event that you are incapacitated, unconscious or mentally incompetent.  This POA typically handles legal and financial decisions, as opposed to a healthcare POA, which involves making medical decisions on your behalf if you can’t.  In the absence of a durable POA, decisions about your legal and financial affairs will be made by a court.

  3. ADVANCE HEALTHCARE DIRECTIVE

    An advance healthcare directive provides doctors and nurses guidance such as whether to put you on a ventilator, whether to perform surgery, what lengths to go to to resuscitate you if you stop breathing, and other similar life-support decisions in the event that you cannot make these decisions yourself.  It is a healthcare roadmap you create that gives medical personnel insight into your wishes.  This document allows you – rather than a panicked family member, a doctor or a judge – to make proactive decisions about which actions to take, and not to take, to preserve your life.

  4. HEALTHCARE POWER OF ATTORNEY 

    A healthcare power of attorney designates a spouse, grown child, friend or other individual to make medical decisions on your behalf when you cannot.  The person should be intimately familiar with your advance healthcare directive and use that document to assist them in making decisions about your healthcare.  The healthcare POA is different than the durable POA, which typically deals with your financial and legal matters.

  5. TRUSTS

    Trusts come in many forms — including revokable and irrevocable – and are used for estate planning purposes to efficiently manage and distribute assets and to reduce your tax liability.  Trusts can also provide for the financial maintenance of minor children.  Revokable trusts can be changed throughout your lifetime and therefore offer a great deal of flexibility.  You can update or modify them to account for future marriages, births, deaths, and other life events.

  6. GUARDIANSHIP OF MINORS AND SPECIAL NEEDS CHILDREN

    A guardianship document puts in writing the name(s) of the person(s) you have chosen to raise and care for your minor or special needs children in the event of your death.  The document gives the chosen guardians significant legal rights regarding your children, similar to those a parent would have.  It is important that these individuals understand the values and moral compass with which you want your children to be raised.

  7. BENEFICIARY DESIGNATIONS 

    Beneficiaries are the family members or friends to whom funds will be distributed from brokerage and bank accounts, insurance policies and retirement accounts.  These beneficiaries are often named when the accounts are set up and this information typically resides at both the bank/brokerage/retirement agency and in your estate planning documents.  Usually you can change, add or remove beneficiaries while you are still living.

  8. LETTER OF INTENT 

    A letter of intent is not a legally binding document in and of itself, but what it does do is provide an explanation and guidance to a beneficiary or executor about the future use and distribution of assets.  It can offer directions about future charitable giving, your own funeral and burial instructions, and any special wishes you may have about future gifts and family heirlooms.

Additional things to consider in your estate planning checklist 

It’s always a good idea to discuss the decisions you have made about the division of your assets with your heirs while you are still alive.  This can prevent any disagreements, surprises and hurt feelings among loved ones after you pass away.  It’s often not a good idea to leave until after your death the announcement of who will receive inheritances and who will be left out of your will.

While it can be difficult to discuss end-of-life issues with family members while you are living, it can also be an experience of real trust and caring and a chance to share loving memories.

How do I choose an Executor?

Choosing an executor – the person who will oversee your estate – is a key decision that you will want to think through carefully.  Very often, an individual will choose a family member — such as a surviving spouse, sibling or grown child — to serve as executor.  This has its advantages because the person knows you well and is likely familiar with your assets and family relationships.  However, other individuals choose to name a professional – such as a lawyer or accountant – as their executor.  The advantages of this are:

  • It reduces the burden and responsibility on a loved one.
  • Decisions and administration of the estate are handled by a third party and lessen the likelihood of disagreements and bickering among family members.
  • A professional has skill, knowledge and resources that a relative may not have.

Whomever you choose, you will want to take the time while you are still in good health to talk through your wishes with them, discuss the distribution of your assets, and answer any questions they may have about your estate.  This also gives the chosen person the opportunity to express any misgivings they may have about acting as your executor.

Contact a Bunch and Brock Estate Attorney Today

It’s never too early to create an estate plan, whether you’re young or old, wealthy or middle class.  A will and estate plan are essential legal documents that will give you control over the distribution of your assets and the care of your family after you are gone.  An estate planning attorney at Bunch and Brock would be glad to sit down with you and start a conversation about these important life-planning issues and craft customized documents to ensure that your wishes are carried out.  To find out more about how we can help, call us at 859-254-5522.