Updated: Feb 8, 2021
If you want loved ones to remember you fondly, make your Estate Plan while you still can! Family and friends will thank you for not leaving a mess for them to figure out. Many people want to get started but don’t know where to start. Here’s what you should know about some of the documents that can help you get your affairs in order.
A will gives you the power to decide what is in the best interests of your children and pets after you’re gone. It also can help you determine what will happen to possessions with financial or sentimental value. It typically names an executor — someone who will be in charge of following your directions. Finally, you can include any funeral provisions.
Use your will to name guardians for those under your care, including minor children and pets. Designate any assets you are leaving for their care.
In the absence of a will, a probate court will name an executor for your estate, typically a spouse or grown child. Probate proceedings are a matter of public record. So keep private information — passwords, for example — out of your will, as that information could become part of a public document.
Update your will as big changes occur — marriage, divorce, inheritance, the purchase of real estate or the birth of a child. If you move to a new state, have your will reviewed by an attorney in the new state. You can change or add to a will at any time, as long as you are mentally competent.
Revocable Living Trust
A living trust is another tool for passing assets to heirs while avoiding potentially expensive and time-consuming probate court proceedings. You name a trustee to manage your property. Unlike a will, a trust can be used to distribute property now or after your death. You can change a revocable living trust as long as you’re mentally competent. If you have substantial property or wealth, a trust can provide tax savings.
When you purchase life insurance or open a retirement plan or bank account, you’re often asked to name a beneficiary, which is the person you want to inherit the proceeds when you die. These designations are powerful, and they take precedence over instructions in a will. Keep copies of your beneficiary designations with your Estate Plan.
Durable Power of Attorney
Choose someone to act on your behalf, financially and legally, in the event that you can’t make decisions. Don’t put off this chore. You must be legally competent to assign power of attorney. Older people worried about relinquishing control sometimes put off the task until they are no longer legally competent to do it. If you do not designate a power of attorney, your family’s hands could be tied should you become incapacitated.
Medical Power of Attorney and Living Will
To ensure that someone can make medical decisions for you in the event you become incapacitated, establish a health care power of attorney — also called a durable health care power of attorney. This is different from the durable power of attorney for financial and legal affairs. A living will lets you explain in advance of your death what types of care you do and do not want, in case you can’t communicate that in the future.
Decide what to do with your digital assets, including your computer hard drive, digital photos, information stored in the cloud, and online accounts such as Facebook, Yahoo, Google and Twitter. Be sure to include a list of your passwords and how you want your account handled, do you want it closed, do you want the contents transferred to someone else’s account, or would you like someone else to simply take control and continue using your account (such as a photo sharing account or social media account).
Letter of Intent
For instructions, requests and important personal or financial information that don’t belong in your will, write a letter. Use it to convey your wishes for things you hope will be done. For example, you may have detailed instructions about how you want your funeral or memorial service to be performed.The letter won’t carry the legal weight of a will. However, coupled with a Will, it can assist either your Executor, Trustee, or Court in making the decisions as you would have wanted them.
List of Important Documents
Make certain your family knows where to find everything you’ve prepared. Make a list of documents, including where each is stored. Include papers for:
Life insurance policies
Pension or retirement accounts
Birth and adoption certificates
Real estate deeds
Stocks, bonds, and mutual funds
Another item helpful for your heirs is a list of bills and accounts, including contact information and account numbers for each, so your representative can settle and close these accounts.
Hammelman Law also provides a document where you can list all information about accounts, policies, digital assets, etc. so that you can update it at any time with new account numbers, passwords, or instructions for use as you see fit.