There’s a common misconception that if you're young, don't have many assets, or don't have any family members, you don't need an estate plan. This problem is worsened by the fact that many people don't know what a complete estate plan entails, and that it comprises more than a will. As a result, more than 50% of Americans lack fundamental estate planning documents.
The truth is that protecting your assets and legacy is critical for the future of your finances throughout your entire life, and the decisions you make—and the documents in your estate plan—can make all the difference in ensuring that your wishes are upheld with minimal costs in terms of court fees, taxes, and other assorted charges.
We've assembled the estate planning checklist below to help address the key components of a well-structured estate plan. While these are the fundamental parts of an estate plan, it may also be beneficial to consult with a trusted professional to build a plan based on the size and complexity of your estate.
Estate Planning Checklist:
Your will designates your executor, who will be your representative in proceedings after you die. It will also designate how you want your assets to be distributed, as well as whom you would like to take over guardianship of legal minors under your care.
A trust has three parties: the trustor (you), the trustee, and the beneficiary. When you die, the trustee holds your assets for the beneficiary, and then hands them over according to your expressed wishes. This path allows you to avoid the long process of probate court and pass assets onto children or other beneficiaries. Should you become incapacitated, your designated trustee can step-in and act on your behalf.
3. Power of Attorney
Designating someone else to have the power of attorney for you is a huge component of your estate plan. When you are incapacitated, this person will have the authority to make legal and financial decisions for you. If you don't designate one, then the court has the authority to set someone for you, which does not guarantee that your specific wishes will be voiced and upheld. This requires a guardianship which can be another long process with court involvement.
4. Healthcare Directives
What if you become so ill or injured that you are incapacitated? Healthcare directives note your specific instructions about future medical care and can even designate a specific agent to make medical care choices for you in the event that you cannot.
5. Beneficiary Designations
Your beneficiaries are the list of people and organizations that will receive your assets when you die. Every asset needs to be listed here, all the way through retirement accounts; Otherwise, the court will have to decide for you.
6. Guardianship Designations
This comes into play if you have any children in your care. In this document, you set a clear guardian for those minors. Otherwise, the court has the authority to appoint one.
7. Letter of Intent/Instruction
A letter of intent is a document that is not legally binding, but that courts can use in case there is any ambiguity and is usually used in an estate plan to map out the individual's wishes for any kids under their care. Everything can be documented here, from the child's background and key points from their life thus far, goals for the children, and even end-of-life instructions for the child (particularly important should the child be terminally ill).
A complete and comprehensive estate plan will include the above elements and is vital to protecting you, your family and your assets. This checklist is a strong starting point in considering your estate plan and thinking about what questions you might have, but you should consult with a professional who can review your specific situation. For further guidance, learn how Caldwell Trust Company and our team of financial experts can assist you with your wealth management and estate planning.