The Estate Planning Process
Create a List of Assets
The first step is to create a list of current assets, including all real estate, vehicles, investments, insurance policies, bank accounts, as well as information regarding payable-on-death savings or brokerage accounts. When creating this list, be sure to include any information that is relevant to each asset, such as the location of documents which will be needed to access the doscuments when you pass on.
Next, organize your digital and paper files, so your executor can access them when the time comes. Once these files are organized, put them together in a safe place that your executor can access. In addition to the files for the assets you listed previously, other important documents or digital files should also be included. For example, documents related to any employee benefits payable when you pass away, pension documents, online trading accounts, mutual funds, information regarding payable-on-death savings or brokerage accounts, and any other documents your executor may need to carry out your wishes.
Create a Last Will and Testament (Will)
Next, you'll need to create a Last Will and Testament (Will), to make your wishes known regarding how your estate should be handled when you pass on. This is the step where you'll want to contact an attorney to assist you with creating a legal document that will be recognized and executed in court according to your wishes.
In your Last Will and Testament (Will), you will name an executor who will have the authority to pay your debts and distribute your remaining assets to your beneficiaries or heirs. In your will, you will also leave instructions for the care of any minor children, such as who will care for them and who will manage any assets you leave to your minor children in your will. You'll also need to clearly name the beneficiaries who you want to receive assets. Also, remember to check to be certain about who you have named as beneficiaries for insurance policies, retirement accounts, brokerage accounts, and payable-on-death savings accounts because any money and/or securities in these types of accounts will only be awarded to beneficiaries you designate in those individual account documents -- no matter what your will states.
Create a Living Will (Directive to Physicians)
After creating a will to express your wishes regarding your estate, it's also important to make your wishes known regarding healthcare if you are too sick to speak for yourself. You can create a written statement detailing the healthcare procedures you want and the procedures you don't want. This statement can include details about your wishes related to anything from diagnostic tests to Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders. This document is known as a Living Will or Directive to Physicians. You will also need to appoint a Medical Power of Attorney whom you trust to make healthcare decisions if you ever become incapacitated or cannot speak for yourself.
Write a Letter to Your Family
It may also be a good idea for some people to write a letter to their family members details things not included in the estate plan thus far. For example, if you want to provide details describing the funeral arrangements you prefer, or if you want to leave instructions for distribution of sentimental items that are not legally defined as assets, but hold value to you and your family or friends, writing a letter to your family and/or friends is a great way to ensure your wishes for these circumstances are carried out as well. Please note that we can help you create an Appointment of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains document that will allow you to explain in detail to your family and friends how you want your funeral services to be conducted.
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