Virtually no one likes to think about or talk about dying. If you do…ummm…weird. Anyway, as uncomfortable as it may be, the subject of death is one that can’t be ignored because statistics show you are going to die one day. With that inevitability in mind, let’s discuss some basic things you need to put in place for your family to be ready for this event. I’m purposefully skipping some of the obvious ones like, “be sure of your eternity,” and “say ‘I Love You’ more often” because hopefully those are givens. If they aren’t…do those too, okay?
An Estate Planning Checklist (the basics)
- A cover letter – The person in charge of dealing with your estate once you’re gone needs some instructions. This letter can be as formal or informal as you like, but give them (in simple English) an idea of what needs to happen. Tell them what accounts you have, where you keep important documents and other things they may need, and just some instructions to get them started on dealing with everything.
- A Will – Your Will (or more appropriately, “Last Will and Testament”) is a legal way in which you can be sure your wishes are honored once you’re gone. Don’t make them have to fight over it. Tell everyone, in exact terms, what you want to happen.
- A Living Will – Sometimes also called an “Advance Directive,” this document simply answers the questions of, “If I’m ever on life support, do I want to stay on it and if so, for how long?” Don’t make someone else decide – tell them what you want. As a side note, this is not necessarily the same as a “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR).
- A Power of Attorney for Health Care – If you’re incapacitated (unconscious, unable to communicate, etc.), you can’t tell a doctor what procedures you do or don’t want done to you or what medications you’re allergic to. This document lays out who can be responsible if you’re not able to be.
- A Durable Power of Attorney – This Power of Attorney covers all situations, not just health care decisions. This document is POWERFUL. It gives someone the right to sign paperwork for you, make financial decisions for you, even file taxes on your behalf. Be careful with this one, but please get it in place so your loved one(s) won’t have to deal with it later.
- Life Insurance – I won’t get into the debate of term vs. whole life vs. variable life here other than to say this: if someone is depending on your income today, don’t leave them high and dry when you aren’t around to earn that money anymore. Set up sufficient life insurance to provide income for the person or people who depend on you to earn a living.
- Funeral Plans – I don’t believe in pre-paying for a funeral, but I sure do believe in pre-planning one! I have a bulleted list I set aside that explains to my wife (and everyone else) what I want at my funeral. I’m not that old, but I’ve had to bury two parents and several grandparents. I promise, funeral planning is not fun. Take care of it now and let your loved ones grieve and simply follow your instructions.
- A list of all your accounts (asset and liability) – While this one may change frequently, it is still very handy for your family to know upon your passing what they need to keep track of. It is amazing how many assets go unclaimed because family simply didn’t know they existed and someone passed away. Similarly, it is amazing how many estates are in deep hock and heirs have no idea.
- Beneficiary or “ToD” Orders on your asset accounts – Life insurance plans, investments and other assets often require this, but make sure you have beneficiaries or “Transfer on Death” orders on all your accounts.
- A Living Revocable Trust (MAYBE) – If your kids are still minors, this can help protect assets they would stand to inherit. This one can cost a lot of money to set up and can be complicated, but if you have some assets to pass down to your minor children, you may want to look into this one.
There are probably hundreds of other helpful items that could go on this list, but these are the basics. Be sure to make plans on all these items…please! Build a Love Drawer to compile it all and then simply tell your designated loved one(s) where to find it. We may look deeper at that idea of a love drawer in another article, but I encourage you to read up on it at my wife’s site linked above.