Estate Planning Checklist – Your Ultimate Guide
By: Carah Kiley
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Estate Planning Checklist – Your Ultimate Guide
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The future is unpredictable and we understand that you want your family to have a secure and comfortable life even when you are incapacitated. The objective of estate planning is to ensure that your goals for your family and finances are achieved during your life and after your death. Having an estate planning checklist can help ensure that nothing falls through the cracks and can safeguard your family in your absence.
Estate Planning Checklist
Having an estate planning checklist will help you understand the basic aspects of estate planning and evaluate the various options that will be of value to you. Estate plans are likely to include wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and health care proxies. Your estate plan is completely dependent on the choices you make and is tailored to meet your needs. These are some things you will need to consider when designing your estate plan:
- Creating a List of Assets
- Naming Beneficiaries
- Creating a Will
- Considering a Revocable Trust
- Creating a Living Will
- Selecting a Power of Attorney
- Selecting a Health Care Proxy
- Safekeeping of your documents
Creating a List of Assets
One of the first steps to take as you craft your estate plan is to make a complete list of all of your current assets. Here is a checklist to help with that process: Current Assets List. Asset examples include:
- Real estate
- Business entities
- Life insurance policies
- Financial accounts – including bank accounts, brokerage accounts, & retirement accounts
- Any other miscellaneous assets, along with an estimated value for each item
Once your list of assets is completed, you will need to decide who you would like to leave things to. Beneficiaries are the people and entities who will inherit your assets after your death, including your spouse, children (if any), and other individuals and entities (such as friends, companies, organizations, charities or non-profit institutions). You may want to plan carefully to minimize estate tax exposure. You may also be able to contribute to the education or medical care of your beneficiaries without incurring any gift tax by paying for these expenses directly. Learn more about Massachusetts Inheritance Law
Creating a Will
A will (also known as a “Last Will and Testament”) is the document that transfers your estate to your designated beneficiaries upon your death. If you die without a will, your property will be distributed according to the Massachusetts State “intestacy” law which will distribute your property to your closest relatives, beginning with your spouse and children. In the absence of a spouse or children, your grandchildren or your parents will inherit your property. If none exist, other relatives will be sought out including siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and nieces and nephews. If there are no family members found and it is found that you have no living relatives by blood or marriage, the State may ultimately take your property. Having a Last Will and Testament will help ensure that your estate is distributed according to your wishes, rather than what is dictated in a statute.
Considering a Revocable Trust
Placing your assets into a Revocable Trust is often the most efficient way to handle the distribution of your property and will avoid having your assets go through probate in Massachusetts. A revocable trust can be revoked by you at any time and allows you to control your property while you are alive. Once your trust is set up, your property will be transferred and titled in the name of your trust and you become the trustee. Upon your death, the person you appoint as your successor trustee will handle the distributions of your assets to your designated beneficiaries without the hassle or significant expense of probate. Learn more about Trust Administration
A Living Will is a document that explains your wishes in the event you are terminally ill or suffer a medical emergency. A Living Will is a useful document and its instructions can help relieve the burden on your loved ones and allow medical professionals to follow your wishes.
Selecting a Power of Attorney
A critical situation people might face is being incapacitated due to an accident or chronic illness. In such a scenario, you can appoint a person to take care of things for you – a Power of Attorney.
The Power of Attorney representative you choose to make financial decisions on your behalf should be someone you trust who is at least 18 years old and is of sound mind. This person needs to be capable of taking care of your finances including, paying monthly expenses, medical bills, and managing all of your financial affairs if you are unable to do so yourself. You as the Principal can choose the specific powers that you wish to grant to the Power of Attorney and can place limits as well.
The Power of Attorney can manage the following:
- Real estate
- Personal property
- Stocks and bonds
- Operating business entities
- Retirement plan(s)
- Taxes (State and Federal)
Requirements for signing – This document should be signed by the Principal, two witnesses and a notary public to assure the validity of the document.
Selecting a Health Care Proxy
You will want to consider appointing a Health Care Proxy to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. Choosing someone you trust can help to ensure that decisions regarding your health and medical care are carried out in line with your wishes. There is also usually a provision for an alternate representative in situations where the primary Proxy is unable to act as your agent.
In order to appoint a Health Care Proxy, you as the Principal will need to have a Health Care Proxy Form in place. This form will aid in making any healthcare decisions you wish to make through the agent authorized by you. It is a requirement that the Principal be at least 18 years old and that he/she is appointed under no constraint or undue influence; this appointment must be affirmed by two witnesses.
Requirements for Signing – The signature of the Principal along with two witnesses, excluding the health care agent being appointed, will serve as verification of the agent appointment. You may refer to this site for more information: Section 2: Appointment of health care agents.
Safekeeping Your Estate Planning Documents
Your estate planning documents should be organized and kept in a secure place, such as in a home safe or your attorney’s office. You should also make sure that someone will be able to easily access them if and when they become necessary.
We at the KLG Estate Planning & Probate Attorneys understand that estate planning can be overwhelming and complex. We strive to make estate planning easy and affordable to everyone in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Our estate planning attorneys have more than 40 years experience and have built a reputation of excellence in the legal community, successfully helping clients in need.
Call us at 978-788-9142 or fill out the form to receive a complimentary 30-minute Free Consultation.