The new year is always a good time to take stock of your estate plans and be sure they are up to date. You’ll want to leave your affairs in the best shape possible so when the time inevitably comes (hopefully many years from now), your family will be financially protected.
Here is a quick estate planning checklist to get you started:
- Be sure you have all necessary documents, including a will, living will, healthcare power of attorney, and more. These items were discussed in my blog last new year’s, so I won’t go into detail about them here.
- Look into buying life insurance. If you have a spouse, young children, or elderly parents you support, life insurance may be a good idea. Contact an agent or get quotes online from Esurance or other sites.
- Update your beneficiary forms. Some assets, including bank accounts and retirement plans, allow you to bypass the probate process after your death if you name a beneficiary on these accounts. The money then goes immediately to the person you have designated. You can similarly tell your broker to list a beneficiary on your stocks, bonds, or brokerage accounts.
- Consider how you want to die. Most Americans don’t give that enough thought—leaving their loved ones to figure out how you want to spend your last months and days, and what type of ceremony you want after you’re gone. That’s why, in consultation with hospice experts, my firm created the free document My Last Emotional Wishes. This form does not replace a will or living will and is not a legally binding document. But it gives your family peace of mind that they’re acting as you would want them to. Download this free form at the bottom of the home page of my website.
- Protect your business. If you are the sole proprietor of a business, be sure to make a succession plan. Even if you have partners, a buyout agreement for them to pay your heirs for your portion should be in place.
- Make your final arrangements. Purchase a burial plot or cremation package, so that expense won’t fall to your heirs.
- Store all your documents carefully. Legal documents, from wills to funeral prepayment plans, should be carefully stored in a lockbox or fireproof safe in your home. Your attorney can also store your legal documents in the office vault. Either way, it’s critical that you tell your close relatives where they can find all these important papers. Never store them in your bank’s safety deposit box; your heirs will not be able to access that box without a court order.