December 20

8 Estate Planning Steps to Take Now


Every adult needs an estate plan.

Its job is to communicate with your survivors after you die, letting them know how you want your affairs to be handled.

Whether you die unexpectedly at a young age, or at the end of a long life, having a sound estate plan in place makes the transition easier for your loved ones.

It includes necessary documents like:

  • A will
  • A list of your assets and debts
  • A power of attorney
  • An advance health care directive

Take these 8 steps to get your estate plan in order:

  1. Find a competent, trustworthy attorney. Your attorney will:
    • help you draft your will and other essential estate documents
    • ensure that your assets will be distributed according to your wishes
    • make sure all essential components of your plan are addressed
  2. Compile a list of all your assets, accounts, and debts. This list should include:
    • Your important physical assets, and how you would like each of them allocated upon your death
    • all accounts you have in your name
    • any outstanding debts you have
      • When you die, claims can be made against your estate by creditors.
      • This can create problems for your loved ones by holding up the probate process
      • The person you designate to handle your affairs will have a better understanding of your whole estate if they know what you owe and who you owe it to
  3. Designate your beneficiaries:

    POD (payable on death) – used for things like bank accounts

    TOD (transfer on death) – used for things like investment accounts

    Some kinds of assets can be paid or transferred directly to your chosen person (or people) when you die, rather than going through the entire probate process.

    Your lawyer can help you understand which assets can be designated in these ways.

    It’s very important to review your POD/TOD beneficiaries throughout your life, and update them as needed in response to life’s circumstances.
  4. Choose an Executor (Personal Representative) that you trust

    This is the person you’ve selected to handle your affairs after you pass, including:
    • Ensuring that your assets go to the people you chose
    • Ensuring that your final wishes for yourself are carried out
  5. Create estate planning documents

    These documents organize and formalize the decisions you made in steps 1-4.
    • Your attorney will help you create these estate planning documents, which usually include:
      • a will, the document that determines:
        • the person who will handle your affairs after you die
        • how your estate will be allocated
        • Who will care for your minor children or pets
      • a power of attorney:
        • This is the document that gives someone you choose the power to act for you in financial and legal matters if you become incapacitated during your lifetime
      • an advance health care directive
        • This document gives someone you choose the power to make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself due to incapacitation
      All of these documents create a cohesive plan for you and your estate after you pass or in the event that you are unable to care for yourself at any time during your life.
  6. Avoid lengthy probate

    Probate is a court process. During probate:
    • The court first determines if your will is valid.If so, your executor is formally appointed and authorized to carry out your wishes as stated in your estate planning documents. If your estate planning documents have been correctly and carefully completed, the probate process is relatively simple and less expensive for your loved ones.
    If there are problems with your estate plan, probate can take years, cost more, and your loved ones may fight over your belongings. Your attorney is here to make sure your estate plan is properly completed so that a lengthy probate process can be avoided.
  7. Prepare for the possibility that you might need long-term care You may require long-term care or assistance prior to your death or at any time in life due to accident or other unforeseen circumstances. It’s important to detail your specific wishes regarding medical care before you need it. Make sure to complete an advance health care directive. Explain in detail how you want to be cared for if you should become incapacitated.
  8. Safely store documents and communicate with trusted loved one.

    Make sure all your estate plan documents have been copied and are securely stored.

    Options for storage include:
    • a fireproof, waterproof safe at home
    • The office of the attorney who helped you with your documents
    • A safe deposit box at a bank (make sure you’ve arranged for this to be accessible by loved ones or friends without a court order)
    • An online storage service or document management system
    • A safely stored USB or external hard drive
    Let a few close and trusted loved ones know where your documents are stored and how to access them, and make sure they’re not accessible to anyone else. If no one knows you have a will, or they can’t find it, your estate will then enter into the lengthy probate process.

In addition to seeking the assistance of your lawyer, make sure to prepare for estate planning by speaking with other professionals, such as a competent tax professional or financial advisor.

Need expert advice to help you with these 8 estate planning steps? You can find it with us at McQuillan & Hohman Law.


Estate, Wills

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