This basic "to do" list organizes some of the topics and action steps you'll want to consider. These steps should help you prepare for an informed discussion with your estate planning attorney.
- Consider putting in place a durable power of attorney, an advance health care directive and organ donor papers.
- Write down, in your own words, how you want your assets to be distributed after your death. Review all contracts and beneficiary designations you have in force today and confer with your estate planning attorney to see if they will actually accomplish what you intend and offer the appropriate level of control and flexibility. Make sure to update your will/trust periodically.
- Make sure your plan leaves adequate sources of income for your beneficiaries. Consider purchasing life insurance to account for the loss of your income to any financial dependents.
- Have a frank discussion with your spouse or loved one to make certain he or she is comfortable with how your estate plan would affect him or her if you die first. If called for, make changes to your plan based on your discussion, assuming you both agree.
- Estimate the amount of estate taxes that will be due at your death and, if you are married with children, the eventual impact of taxes on your children if your spouse predeceases you or you predecease your spouse. If the figure is significant, consider changing your estate plan and/or making current gifts to minimize potential estate taxes, if advisable.
- Consider funding a revocable living trust (if it is currently unfunded) now with all or some of your assets to maximize flexibility, privacy, and convenience for you and your beneficiaries. If you have real property in states other than your state of legal residence, consider deeding the property to the trust now in order to avoid ancillary probate proceedings in the other state after your death.
- Review or choose an executor of your estate, a trustee for your trust(s) (if you choose to have any), and a guardian for your minor children.
Be certain that you understand the language in your current estate planning documents. If you don't, ask your attorney to explain unclear statements and clarify for you the impact on your heirs—perhaps even draw them a picture.