12 Steps to Estate Planning Checklist

by M-Gillies
estate planning document with pen

There are twelve key points to remember while estate planning.

1. Make a Will:
When making a will, it is important to state who you want to inherit your property. This is where you will name a guardian to care for children in the event that something has happened to you and the other parent.

2. Consider a trust:
To avoid the hassles of probate court, which is a time-consuming and expensive process, it is recommended to make a living trust for property that will be passed on to beneficiaries.

3. Make health care directives:
Making health care directives is important in the event you become unable to make medical decisions for yourself. These directives include a health care declaration (living will) and a power of attorney for health care, which gives someone of your choosing the power to make decisions if you can’t.

4. Make a financial power of attorney:
A durable power of attorney for finances transfers the responsibilities of handling your finances and property if you become incapacitated and are unable to handle your own affairs. This person is called an agent or attorney-in-fact and isn’t necessarily an attorney but a trusted person.

5. Protect your children’s property:
If you are a single parent and you die before your children are adults, it is important to name a an adult who can manage any money and property left as an inheritance for your minor children until they are old enough to manage it on their own.

6. File beneficiary forms:
Another way of bypassing the probate process is naming a beneficiary for your bank accounts and retirement plans. This process makes accounts automatically payable on death to your beneficiary.

7. Consider life insurance:
For people who have young children, own a house, have significant debts or who will owe estate taxes upon death, life insurance is a good idea as it will cover some or all of the amount owing depending on the policy chosen.

8. Understand estate taxes:
As of 2011 and 2012, the federal government will impose estate tax at your death, but only if your taxable estate is worth more than $5 million dollars.

9. Cover funeral expenses:
Instead of funeral repayment plans, you can also set up a payable-on-death account at your bank and deposit funds into it to pay for funeral and related expenses.

10. Make final arrangements:
It is best to inform family of your wishes regarding organ and body donation and disposition of your body, stating whether you would like a burial or cremation. This information can also be provided in the Will.

11. Protect your business:
For sole owners of a business, it is important to have a succession plan. If the business is owned with others, a buyout agreement should be drafted.

12. Store your documents:
The following documents should be stored safely and securely for your attorney-in-fact and/or executor, which include:

  • Will;
  • Trusts;
  • Insurance policies;
  • Real estate deeds;
  • Certificates for stocks, bonds, annuities;
  • Information on bank accounts, mutual funds and safe deposit boxes;
  • Information on retirement plans, 401(k) accounts, IRAs, CPP, etc.; and
  • Information on Totten trusts or funeral prepayment plans and any final arrangement instructions you have made.
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