Estate planning is an important “life step” that provides a clear, comprehensive blueprint for how your family is cared for in the event of your death or disability. The best estate plans follow an estate planning checklist that ensures nothing is overlooked and that all important topics are considered. The following checklist from Infinity Financial Services in Oakland is a useful tool as you engage the estate-planning process
Start with the Basics
The basics of any sound estate plan are:
- Designating beneficiaries
- Defining ownership of assets (who gets what)
- Medical treatment planning
- Guardianship of any minors
- Completion of one or more estate planning forms
- Exploration of estate-tax reductions
These basics all work towards the same goal: your family’s financial well-being.
Get a Last Will and Testament
A last will and testament establishes who will be your estate’s executor, who gets any property that isn’t already covered through joint ownership or a beneficiary designation, and who cares for any minor children/disabled adult children.
Obtain a Living Will
A living will (also called an “advance directive”) works in conjunction with a healthcare power of attorney (POA), which empowers a spokesperson of your choosing to undertake key decisions/actions should you be mentally or physically incapacitated. A living will specifies to your spokesperson what level/extent you want life-prolonging medical treatment administered to your person, should you sustain an injury or terminal illness that renders you unable to communicate.
Confirm your executor has all of your important personal information
Your executor should have all of the passwords and account numbers he/she needs to access/manage your accounts and execute your wishes. For example:
- Credit cards
- Insurance policies
- Vehicle loans
- Financial accounts
Your executor should also have a “statement of desires”, which stipulates your wishes for burial/cremation, funeral arrangements, and organ donation, along with who you would like notified regarding your death. While neither the statement of desires nor account management information are legally-binding documents, the knowledge provided to your executor is invaluable.
Cover Your Debts with Insurance
This step is often overlooked on many estate planning checklists, but it makes good financial sense. By covering your debts with life, disability, homeowners, and auto insurance, you’ll ensure everything is paid for should you pass or become disabled.
Financial Power of Attorney
This works similar to a health care POA, only in this case your appointee acts on your behalf in all financial matters. There are a few different ways that a financial POA can be established – for example, you can assign a POA to act on your behalf immediately, even while you’re in good health, or you can assign a POA that takes effect when a future event occurs, i.e. you become mentally/physically incapacitated. Note that upon your death, the POA is no longer valid.
Confirm Beneficiary Designations
Certain assets can be bequeathed to someone when you die, but not before. In cases like this, the person receiving the asset(s) is chosen by you and termed the beneficiary. Valid assets include financial and banking accounts, as well as motor vehicles, real estate, and other title-possessing assets. The rules vary by state, and our advisors will confirm what your options are within your home state.
For many, estate planning may not be a priority. However, the experts at Infinity Financial Services suggests that the sooner you establish an estate plan, the better you’ll feel about your future.