Get Organized: Important Estate Planning Documents

You’ve spent a lifetime building your estate. Developing a comprehensive estate plan ensures that you pass on a legacy that aligns with your wishes. Here are five basic tasks to consider:

Organize

Update your financial plan. With the help of your advisor, identify the growth trajectory of various assets; stocks/bonds, retirement plans and real property over time. What part of these resources do you plan to leave for family, for charity? What factors might play into how you distribute your property to family when you pass? What about children from previous marriages? What current gifting are you doing? What controls or limitations might feel appropriate for leaving assets to younger generations or family members facing challenges in handling finances responsibly?

Educate

Authorize your financial advisor to collaborate with (or also refer you to) an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss all matters around passing on property, trusts, federal and state estate tax, costs of probate, the income tax impact of property passing at death, and the risks to your beneficiaries in effectively managing their inheritance.

Empower

Identify the best individual(s) to act as your executor, the guardian of your children, durable power of attorney regarding financial matters, and the individual to make healthcare decisions if you are unable to do so. Also, what values do you want to pass on to your family? Is a letter or ethical will containing your sentiments important to leave for your family?

Protect

Make sure your wishes are carried out by having the documents completed and the estate plan effectively implemented; property retitled in the name of a trust, beneficiary designations made, other strategies set in place, like life insurance to replace assets, potentially held within a trust to avoid estate taxation.

Review

Creating an estate plan is not a “one and done” event. Life takes many turns along the way, so be sure to review and update your plan regularly.

Supplemental Documents

There are other documents that can go a step further, to create peace of mind around communicating important details about financial resources, access to information, and family values. We have developed templates that can help in assembling and recording what’s important.

  • A Financial Inventory, as a one-stop summary of all the financial details, can save grieving family members from a time consuming and stressful “treasure hunt. It contains a listing of assets, accounts, estate documents, beneficiaries, and other critical financial pieces requiring attention after someone’s death.
  • A Letter to Family and Friends (LFF) relates important end of life details and your intent for passing on meaningful objects and family heirlooms, really anything that isn’t addressed in your will or trust document. The LFF might contain a general paragraph providing a broad view of your estate and what beneficiaries can expect, with important preferences like; what sort of funeral arrangements? How should a pet be cared for, your desired disposition of personal items, what about digital and social media accounts? If you don’t have a separate Legacy Letter that addresses your family’s philanthropic plans you could record your interests in that regard here.
  • An Ethical Will is an avenue to communicate your sentiments and values to survivors. You could recount your important life lessons, something you learned from family members, things you are grateful for, and your hopes for the future.

For more information and to download helpful templates on Estate Planning, visit our website.

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