If you’re the pragmatic type, one of your New Year’s Resolutions may have been finally getting your estate in order. However, if you’re human, you might not have gotten around to it. The promises we make in January are often left undone, after all. Luckily, it’s not too late. Organizing your estate is easier than you may think and getting started requires no special preparation. What follows is an estate planning checklist to help you begin.
Estate Planning Checklist
The notion of “organizing your estate” may sound involved but really it’s just another way of saying “putting your belongings in order.” It’s basically spring cleaning without the scrubbing—and that you can do in a weekend if you’re motivated. Here’s what you need to do:
Inventory Your Assets
You can’t organize your estate until you know what it includes. The first step to estate planning is thus making a list of all tangible and intangible assets. This includes real estate, vehicles, jewelry, collectibles, and sentimental items as well as financial accounts, stocks, bonds, and stakes you may hold in any business. It also includes digital assets such as social media accounts, blogs, cryptocurrencies, NFTs, etc.
Once your lists are complete, note the value of each item and work out how might divide everything. At this stage, decisions are provisional and so there’s no need to lose any sleep.
List Your Debts
Your estate will have to pay your outstanding debts when you die and the job of doing so will fall to your loved ones. To ensure that they overlook no detail (and don’t inadvertently pay any illegitimate creditors), list everything you owe alongside all information needed to make payments. This includes usernames, passwords, account numbers, copies of signed agreements, and the contact information of concerned parties.
Review Your Beneficiary Designations
Beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts and life insurance policy trump anything your will might say. Estate planning is about protecting your family from economic hardship but also from conflict and so ensuring there is no disagreement between competing documents is crucial.
Talk to Your Family
Once you have done the heavy lifting of inventorying your assets and debts and reviewing key documents, it’s time to invite your family into the conversation. In this global world, the holidays are often the only time everyone can gather and so take advantage of this year and reserve a moment to share your thoughts about your estate plan. Listen as much as you talk and consider any needs or priorities your loved ones express.
Contact an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney
Once you’ve accomplished the above, it’s time to hand off the busy work to an experienced estate planning attorney. Share all of the information you have gathered, articulate your goals and wishes, and consider any oversights your attorney may point out. They will take care of drafting your documents but you play a key role in educating them about your wishes.
Many New Year’s Resolutions are merely aspirational, but estate planning is different. Getting your estate organized takes careful thought, yes, but it’s not an insurmountable task—especially when you have experienced help.