A good estate strategy will ensure that your final wishes are carried out in the event of your death and your assets are transferred to your heirs in a tax efficient manner. Here is a checklist to help you get started.
1. Do you have a Will?
Your Will specifies who you want to inherit your property and allows you to name a guardian for your minor children.
2. Do you have a Living Trust?
A Living Trust by-passes probate and provides for immediate distribution of your trust assets.
3. Do you have healthcare documents in place?
Healthcare documents spell out your wishes for health care and authorize your agent to make decisions on your behalf if you become unable to make medical decisions for yourself. These documents may include an advance medical directive, a living will, and/or a durable medical power of attorney.
4. Do you have financial documents in place?
If you suffer from incapacity or become incompetent and unable to make financial or other decisions for yourself, a guardian will need to be appointed by the court unless you designate an agent in a living trust or durable power of attorney or you have a joint property owner who is empowered to make decisions on your behalf.
5. Have you filed beneficiary forms?
Naming a beneficiary on insurance, accounts, retirement plans, titled property, etc. makes them “payable on death” to your designated beneficiary and overrides a contrary designation in your Will or Trust.
6. Have you taken steps to manage your federal estate tax?
In 2019 if you have more than $11.4 million in assets ($22.8 million for a married couple) you should consider taking steps to manage your federal estate tax.
7. Is your business protected?
Do you have a succession plan? If you own a business with others you should consider a buyout agreement.
8. Have you created a Letter of Instruction?
A letter of instruction is a non-legal document that outlines your wishes. A strong, well-written letter may save your heirs time, effort, and expense as they administer your estate.
9. Will your heirs be able to locate critical information and documents?
Your heirs will need access to the specific documents you have created to manage your estate. These documents may include:
- Your will
- Trust documents
- Life insurance policies
- Deeds to any real estate, and certificates for stocks, bonds, annuities
- Information on your bank accounts, mutual funds, and safe deposit boxes
- Information on your retirement plans, 401(k) accounts, or IRAs
- Information on any debts, credit cards, mortgages, loans, utilities, and unpaid taxes