Author: Laura Knolle
No matter how young or old you are, the last thing you probably want is to create a problem for your family when you’re not there to help them figure out how to solve it.
Yet according to a recent study, 60 percent of American adults don’t have a will or living trust. What’s more, only 29 percent of adults have a living will. So, if you’re just getting around to planning your estate, you can take comfort in the fact that countless other Americans are in your position.
Keeping important family documents organized and in good order for your heirs and loved ones can be one of the greatest gifts you leave behind. It can save your children and family from hours of frustration over having to play detective to piece everything together during what will be an emotionally difficult time.
To organize your estate, you might have to put in a little bit of legwork up front. When the dust settles, it can take several months or even a few years to get everything ironed out, depending on the complexities of your estate. But in doing so, you may get the peace of mind that comes with knowing your family has one less thing to think about when the time comes.
Since you’re reading this article, you might be ready to start a new chapter in your life by getting your estate organized. That’s great news! To make the process easier, we’ve put together a simple checklist that may give you a better picture of what you need to consider as you begin creating things such as a living will, last will and testament, and trust.
Consolidate Contact Information
First things first: You may want to leave behind a list that contains the contact information for individuals who will need to be notified. This includes people who are involved in your financial and legal affairs—such as estate planning attorneys, CPAs, financial advisors, bankers, and insurance agents. It also includes people whom you have business relationships with—such as a business partner or client.
Beyond that, you’ll also want to include contact information for friends and doctors—as well as any people you might have recurring business with (e.g., a landscaper or barber). That way, your heirs will know whom to notify as a courtesy.
You can choose to keep all of this information in a binder or store it electronically—securely and backed up. Share this information periodically with your loved ones, your attorney, and financial advisor to make things easier for everyone.
Organize Important Documents
In addition to contact information, you may also need to organize what can be a sizeable collection of documents. The last thing you want is to force your survivors to ransack your house and office looking for critical paperwork.
Depending on the structure of the estate, planning will vary from person to person. As you begin planning your estate, here are some of the common documents you might need to collect:
- Powers of attorney
- Advance healthcare directives
- Real estate deeds
- Business succession plans
- Insurance contracts
- Safe deposit box key, bank name, and box number
- Letters and notes detailing who should receive personal belongings
If you have important documents—such as wills, deeds, or trusts—sitting in a safe deposit box, consider making copies of them and putting them with your other estate planning materials, letting your heirs know where they can track down the originals.
Put Together a List of Other Personal Items
The documents listed above are critical to include in your estate planning checklist. Still, you want to make your heirs’ experience as easy and stress-free as possible. To this end, you may want to include a list of other personal items that will show your family exactly what to do.
For example, if you have multiple online investment and banking accounts. That way, there’s one less hoop to jump through. You may also want to share alarm codes, extra keys to the house, codes to the safe, and more.
Beyond that, you may also want to write out your wishes for final arrangements. Do you want to be buried or cremated? What do you want your memorial service to be like? What would you like your obituary to say? These are some of the questions you need to think about.
Finally, consider writing a personal note to your spouse, children, grandchildren, and any other friends you’d like to leave some parting advice for. It’s one last opportunity to tell your loved ones how you feel and share your wisdom.
Once you’ve got your plans in order, you may want to meet with your family to discuss the details and walk them through everything so they are familiar with what will need to be done when the time comes.
Get in Touch with an EP Wealth Advisor
Estate planning can be difficult. It’s an incredibly important and complex part of life, and it’s something that you’ve never done before.
If you have any questions about organizing your estate, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us right away. Over the years, we’ve helped folks get their affairs in order. Our full range of capabilities includes life transition planning, retirement planning, financial planning, and other similar services designed to simplify your life and help you achieve your financial goals. We will work with you to create an estate plan that works best for you and your family.
Estate Planning Checklist
- Contact information for your lawyer, accountants, financial advisor, banker, insurance agent, business partners, clients, friends, and individuals you have recurring business with
- Estate planning documents, including wills, trusts, powers of attorney, advanced healthcare directives, real estate deeds, and any letters or notes detailing who should receive any special personal belongings
- Safe deposit box key, institution, and box number.
- Information on how to access important information, including your birth certificate; marriage certificate; Social Security card; driver’s license; passport; military ID cards; bank statements; investment statements; insurance policies; tax returns; beneficiary designations for retirement accounts, annuities, and life insurance; information about your business; net worth statement; information about real estate holdings; login credentials for your online accounts; alarm codes; keys to your house; safe codes; and more
- Final wishes, including whether you’d like to be buried or cremated; how you’d like your memorial service to be; what you’d like your obituary to say; any wishes you have for your pets; and any personal notes you may want to leave behind for your spouse, children, grandchildren, and friends
Are you ready to begin the estate planning process? Check out our estate planning offering today.
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