While the pandemic appears to have generated interest in estate planning, fewer than 46% of U.S. adults have a will, according to a December 2021 CNBC article. Whether you’re putting off your estate planning because you don’t feel like you’ll need it anytime soon or because it’s such an emotionally charged process, procrastinating will only complicate things for you (and your heirs) in the future. The same goes for those who do have an estate plan but haven’t reviewed it in a while. No matter who you are, how big (or small) your estate is, and what stage of life you are in, a review should be conducted annually.
Here are 13 important estate planning tasks to add to your to-do list.
1. Gather Important Documents
From your birth certificate and social security card to the deed to your house, make sure all your important documentation is together in a safe place. Not only will it be helpful as you embark on the estate planning process but having everything organized and together will take the burden of locating all these important documents off your loved ones after your passing.
2. Make a Contact List
While you’re at it, gather any important contact information so that that, too, is together in one convenient place. Include everyone from your medical provider to your attorney, and your financial advisor to your insurance agent.
3. Itemize Your Inventory
Begin by going through all the physical items inside and around your home. Do you have valuable jewelry that has been passed down through generations of family members? Do you collect original art or antiques? What about your computer, your car, and your house? Make an itemized list of all your valuables, keeping notes if someone comes to mind that you’d like to pass the item on to after your death.
4. Follow Suit with Non-Tangible Assets
Next, do the same thing with any non-physical assets including retirement accounts, bank accounts, brokerage accounts, long-term care policies, life insurance policies, and so on. Be sure to include account numbers, contact information for the firms holding these assets, and the copies of any physical documentation you have.
5. Put Together a List of Debts
One you’ve reviewed your assets, look at any debts. These could include mortgages, automobile loans, open credit cards, etc. Just like with non-tangible assets, be sure to include account numbers, contact info, and any important related documentation.
6. Execute a Last Will and Testament
A will details your wishes for the distribution of your assets after your death, and as such, its importance cannot be overlooked. Work with an attorney to draft your will, being sure to include a designated guardian for any minor children, instructions regarding any pets you may have, and designated assets for charitable organizations if you choose. Ensure that someone trustworthy knows the location of your will so that they can access it if needed.
7. Draft a Living Will
You should also be sure to create a living will, which is a legal document that names someone to communicate with medical professionals regarding life-sustaining medical treatments should you become incapacitated.
8. Select a Power of Attorney
A power of attorney allows you to name an individual to oversee and handle your affairs for you if you are unable. It’s important to think carefully about the person you will select for this designation; It should be someone you trust, someone you feel comfortable with, and someone you believe would represent you well in case of the worst. You may select separate powers of attorney for health care and financial decisions.
9. Establish a Living Trust
A living trust allows you to retain control over any property placed within the trust throughout your lifetime and then shifts control to a pre-selected successor upon your death, who can then distribute the assets per your instructions. A living trust can be a great way to ensure a speedy distribution of your assets, all while avoiding estate taxes and maintaining privacy.
10. Review Your Beneficiaries
Be sure to regularly review your beneficiary designations on any life insurance policies, retirement accounts, pensions, bank accounts, real estate, or vehicles to make sure they are up to date. It’s important to note that beneficiary designations will control where these accounts and assets are transferred, regardless of what your will says.
11. Secure Your Digital Assets
In this day and age, it’s important to think about your digital assets, too. From social media accounts and websites to online bank accounts, and even your cell phone, put a plan in place for how your digital assets should be handled upon your death.
12. Consider Final Arrangements
Do you want to be an organ donor? Where would you like to be buried? How will your funeral be paid for? Most of us would prefer not to think about these things, but if you have specific wishes, it’s wise to make them known ahead of time. Draft a letter to a trusted loved one or to your estate administrator with clear instructions. Keep in mind that a will often isn’t read immediately following a death, so it probably isn’t the best place to include this information.
13. Talk with Your Loved Ones
If you’ve completed the above tasks, you’re off to a great start on your estate planning mission. But you’re not quite finished. One of the most important steps is talking things through with your loved ones. Although the subject matter might be grim, the conversation itself doesn’t have to be. Reiterate that the gift of preparedness is one of the greatest gifts you can give, and that you’re choosing to have this conversation now so that you won’t have to have it later.
Bonus tip: Meet with your financial advisor. At The Humphreys Group, we work closely with our clients to help them tackle the unique challenges they face at every stage of life, and that includes estate planning. We welcome these challenges with a deep commitment to providing you with a comfortable, collaborative setting to explore your concerns and follow your dreams. If you’d like to discuss updating your estate plan, reach out to our team today!