The 8-Point Estate Plan Checklist

Congress, state legislatures and the courts are constantly changing the estate-planning rulebook. Make sure your estate plan covers all your bases. The following checklist will help clue you in to what to consider:

  1. Do you have a will or trust in place? If not, the time to create these is now. If you do, make sure the provisions and people named are still appropriate.
  2. Do you have a health care power of attorney to permit someone you trust to make emergency health care decisions for you in the event you are unable to do so?
  3. Are you certain that your current estate plan takes into account the recent tax changes?
  4. Have you worked with an attorney to avoid possible will contests and disputes after you've gone?
  5. Are you satisfied with the persons you've named as guardians of your minor children?
  6. Does your current plan provide creditor and lawsuit protection for assets passed to your surviving spouse and children?
  7. If you have a revocable living trust in place, is it fully funded so your family can avoid the delays and expenses of probate?
  8. Does your estate plan protect your children's inheritance in the event your surviving spouse chooses to remarry?

Even if you have an estate plan in place, it may be incomplete and the most important subjects might not be addressed. How can you be sure that you've created a sound plan? Start with an estate planning attorney who can connect you with other professionals as necessary.

Here are the high points your estate plan should include:

  • A will.
  • A durable power of attorney for business and health care decisions.
  • A revocable trust — to transfer, manage and distribute assets while you're alive and to avoid full probate after your death.
  • Any other kinds of trusts you may find useful.
  • A list of assets.
  • Instructions regarding the point at which you do not want to be resuscitated.
  • A legacy letter. This is an "ethical will," and its purpose is to pass ethical values from one generation to the next. It tells your loved ones what you want them to know.
  • Selection of someone to make medical decisions, if needed.
  • Instructions regarding how you want your assets distributed. This can be very detailed if you want, noting who gets which pieces of jewelry or furniture, for example.
  • A guardian decision for minor children.
  • Instructions on how to handle your digital legacy.
  • Letters to your family — your wishes should you need to be removed from life support, for example. It will make their doing so a great deal easier if you reiterate that this is your wish, with a personal, not formal, request.

Your ultimate goal is to make the emotional, legal and financial issues surrounding your death as easy as possible for your heirs to manage.

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