Though it might seem an ominous task, there comes a time in your life when you need to consider how you will divide your estate when you’re no longer around. Last will and testament laws mean you can set out how you want your assets shared among those you leave behind, what you want your funeral to be like, and who you want to be the executor of your final wishes.
It can feel overwhelming, especially when you’re thinking about your death or incapacitation, but getting things in order now will make it easier for those you leave behind. Having your estate planned and sorted means your loved ones will navigate fewer negotiations and disagreements in their time of grief.
This article will examine what estate planning entails and what documents you need to ensure everything is in order. Take a look below to learn more now.
What Is Estate Planning?
Estate planning is the process of arranging how a person’s assets will be managed and distributed after death or incapacitation and can no longer carry out their wishes.
Estate planning involves many different processes, including making a last will and testament, assigning someone to be an executor of your last wishes, naming beneficiaries, setting up trusts, and making funeral arrangements.
If you die intestate – meaning without a legal will – your affairs will need to be sorted out by those you leave behind. This situation can cause significant disruption to the lives of your loved ones and takes a lot longer than if you had made a will.
Though a will is a significant part of estate planning, it is not the only thing you need to get sorted out. We’ve created an ultimate checklist for all the estate planning documents you’ll need to arrange to ensure everything is straightforward when you pass. Take a look at the next section to find out more.
8 Items to Remember for Estate Planning: a Checklist
To simplify things, we’ve gathered all the documents you need to plan your estate below. We’ve summarized each one so you understand what each document entails.
1. Last will and testament
The last will and testament document specifies who you want to inherit your assets and property when you die. It includes everything from the things you physically own, like your home and your diamond earring collection, to your bank account and investments.
Anyone who inherits from your will is called a beneficiary and usually includes your family and any friends or non-profits you choose. You will also name an executor of your will, who is the person that will ensure your family members meet your last wishes, and you can appoint guardians for minor children and pets.
Making a will is setting out precisely what you want to happen to the things you own after you die. It means there is no room for fighting or negotiating among family members when you die, which should make the process much simpler.
For people with larger estates and more assets, you may opt to make a revocable living trust in place of a will. This arrangement is essentially a trust that takes control of your assets and allows them to be distributed much more quickly after your death.
It helps to avoid the time and expense incurred when your assets sit in probate and requires a notarized trust document and a successor trustee to be named.
2. Beneficiary designations
Some assets you own must go through a court-supervised legal process, but others do not. These can be transferred to your beneficiary quickly after you die, including 401(K) accounts, life insurance policies, and pensions. Lawyers refer to all of these as ‘non-probate assets.’
These assets do not go into your will. Instead, you need to name beneficiaries for each asset, i.e., you need to name a beneficiary to your life insurance before you die.
3. Living will
A living will document states your wishes if you are ever to become incapacitated and unable to carry out your wishes. A living will is accompanied by the appointment of a medical power of attorney, and lawyers refer to this process as an Advanced Healthcare Directive document (AHCD).
A living will is a document that states your medical preferences, including treatment, surgical and medication options, and end-of-life care if you cannot communicate them. The medical power of attorney you appoint is the person who makes medical choices for you if you are ever unable to.
4. Power of attorney
A financial power of attorney document names the person who has the legal authority to access and manage both your finances and your property. This person must work alongside your medical power of attorney regarding healthcare options to ensure that you can afford them.
Other financial power of attorney responsibilities include paying your bills, making necessary deposits, and managing your property. The person who holds power of attorney effectively acts as your agent.
5. Title and property deeds
For everything, including property, vehicles, and any other real estate you own, deeds need to be accessible to your surviving family members.
For example, let’s say your will names someone as the beneficiary of your property, but the deed names another as the owner. In that case, the deed overrides the will. This override occurs because a property deed denotes the legal owner of a property, and a will only allows you to give away what you own. If the deed names another as the new legal owner, you cannot give it away in your will.
This conflict usually only occurs in co-owned property, i.e., between spouses.
6. Identity documents
We recommend keeping identity documents together so your executor can access them easily. Identity documents include but are not limited to the following:
- Social security card
- Birth certificate
- Marriage certificate
- Divorce certificates and settlements
- Prenuptial agreements
- Armed Forces discharge papers
7. Digital account logins and passwords
Estate planning for digital accounts is becoming increasingly important as more and more of our lives move online. Managing digital accounts and keeping track of passwords is vital when it comes to having control over a person’s finances, properties, and personal information after death. To ensure that all digital assets are accounted for in estate planning documents, individuals should create a list that includes all the necessary details about each account such as login credentials and passwords.
Creating this list will make it easier to access accounts after an individual has passed away. It should include not only bank accounts but also websites and services like social media accounts, cloud storage providers, email services, streaming services, online shopping sites etc., with the respective username or ID number along with associated passwords. This information can be shared with trusted family members or advisors who will be responsible for overseeing the estate post-death.
8. Funeral arrangements
Funeral arrangements are not a legal aspect of estate planning, but it can help your loved ones to carry out your final wishes. You can include information on how you’d like to be buried, if there are any requests for readings or poems, and if you’d like mourners to wear specific colors.
Documents for Estate Planning: Critical points to remember
Estate planning makes everything a little easier for the loved ones you leave behind. If you are beginning to think about estate planning and want to get your legal documents in order, it’s essential to be efficient. Ensure you prepare the correct documents and get a professional lawyer to cast their eye over them if you have any doubts about completing your estate planning with ease.
Susan Noel is an experienced content writer. She is associated with many renowned business and law blogs as a guest author where she shares her valuable articles with the audience.
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