According to a recent survey, the biggest reason many Americans haven't prepared a will or living trust — they haven't gotten around to it. Here are 10 helpful tips for building a multifaceted estate plan.
Many Americans agree that estate planning is important – yet only 33 percent of them have prepared a will or living trust. The biggest reason: they haven’t gotten around to it, according to one recent survey1.
Preparing a will is essential for protecting your loved ones after you’ve gone. But it’s not enough. Your family members will need more information than wills generally include, and they will need you to take additional steps to ensure that they’re taken care of.
If you’ve been wondering where to begin your estate-planning journey, read on. Here are 10 helpful steps to building a multifaceted estate plan:
- Inventory your physical assets. You probably won’t put a list of everything you own in your will, but your family will need at least some things itemized to implement your wishes after you pass. Expensive items are the most important to record, of course, including your home, jewelry, art, collectibles, cars, consumer electronics, and power tools. To help ensure you have everything covered, make your list as you go through your house and around your property. If you’d like specific people to have specific items, note that on your list too.
- Inventory your non-physical assets. Include all your accounts, including retirement accounts, bank accounts, investments, insurance policies and so on (e.g., health, long-term care, house, car, life, disability). List the account issuers, account numbers, and contact information. If you have the physical policies, keep them in a central place and let your family know where they are.
- Update the list of beneficiaries on retirement and other accounts. While you’re listing all your pension and insurance policies, review beneficiaries for each of them, and add or update names as appropriate. The names you put here will supersede instructions in your will, so it’s important to keep them current as you undergo life changes such as marriage, divorce, children’s births, and so on.
- Don’t forget debts. While you might not like to be reminded of your debts, you need to let your family members know what they are. List names, account numbers, and contact information for mortgages, car loans, personal loans, credit cards, and any other debt, such as a home equity line of credit (HELOC).
- List your memberships and passwords. We hear stories all the time about survivors who find it difficult or impossible to access a loved one’s online accounts after death because they don’t have the internet addresses and passwords. Leave a list of memberships and subscriptions with usernames and passwords so family members can stop things like automatic subscription deductions and close accounts to preempt fraud. And if your computer is password-protected, be sure to give your family that information too.
- Simplify your finances. When taking inventory of your retirement and other financial accounts and policies, simplify them – both to make them easier for you to manage and easier for your family to deal with after you’re gone. Maybe several IRAs or 401(k)s can be consolidated. Maybe some accounts can be rolled over into better-performing options. This is a good step to take in consultation with a financial professional.
- Tell your family members. We’ve mentioned this a few times above, but it deserves its own point on this list: Your loved ones should know where to find all your estate planning, policies, and inventory information when they need it. Talk with them as well about what you’re planning and why, and give them the opportunity to ask questions.
- Designate your estate administrator or executor. Many people choose their spouse for this job, and this is often a good choice. But not always. Consider the likely emotional state of your estate administrator or executor after your death, their own biases, and how faithful you think they’ll be in following your wishes.
- Complete other important documents. A will is an important estate planning document to complete, but it’s not the only one. As appropriate, complete a power of attorney, transfer of death designations, healthcare proxy (also called a living will), and any guardianship instructions regarding children – and pets. Online resources can help, though we recommend working closely with an attorney whenever possible.
- Check with your financial professional. Got it all covered? Are you sure? Remember to check in with your financial professional both when you begin your estate planning process, and at key points along the way.