Estate Planning Checklist

May 2, 2016 | by James Behr Jr & Christopher Paleologus

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You may have seen estate planning mentioned a lot recently in the news regarding the late musician Prince who passed away without his estate in order. Not only can this keep your loved ones from receiving your assets, it can lead to a long, costly process that often results in battles between them as Prince’s siblings are currently experiencing. Although you may not believe you have an “estate” to plan for, you should be sure to have your will in order in the event of your passing. Below are some helpful tips to get started.

Checklist for Estate Planning:
o Know the exact location of your Original Will and ensure that your executor or durable power of attorney knows where to obtain it
o Consider filling out a Transfer on Death (TOD) Form on any brokerage or bank accounts so assets may transfer to your beneficiaries in a timely       manner
o Name beneficiaries for any IRA or 401(k) you may have so that it transfers in a timely manner
o Beneficiaries on retirement accounts always supersede what is stated in the will and also avoid probate
o Spousal beneficiaries are able to take the account as if it were their own
o Naming non-spouse beneficiaries will allow them to create a stretch IRA which will decrease the yearly RMD amount thus stretching the taxation on   the account over many more years
o For 2016, any individual’s estate with a fair market value less than $5.45 million is exempt from Federal estate tax
o Gather and deposit any physical stock certificates that you hold into your brokerage account to save time and avoid fees later
o Create a Master Document explaining all of your assets, their locations (physical property, bank & brokerage accounts, etc.), how to access them,    and what should be done with them in the event of your passing

If you don’t have an estate plan currently in place, you may want to consider drafting the documents needed in the case of your untimely passing. Many people believe that only “wealthy” individuals have an estate but this couldn’t be further from the truth. All property you own or debts that you own that you own at the time of your passing are included in an estate and can be distributed by a will, trust, or under your state’s inheritance laws.

An estate plan should first and foremost include a will. This is a legal document stating what you want to happen to your property in the event of your passing. Do your homework then consult an attorney before it is finalized to be certain that it is done correctly and in accordance with your state’s laws. Estate plans can also include a durable power of attorney, living will, and a master document. A Durable Power of Attorney is a signed document that appoints an agent the power to handle your finance and legal affairs and act in your best interests in the event that you become incapacitated. A Living Will states all health care directives that you wish to be followed should you be unable to tell a doctor yourself. Finally, a Master Document would be a list explaining all of your assets, their locations (physical property, bank & brokerage accounts, etc.), how to access them, and explains what should be done with them in the event of your passing. Unlike a will, it is not a legal document but a list or checklist of all your belongings.

If you have no estate plan in place, you will be considered to have passed away intestate, and the state where you live will determine who gets your assets under the state’s inheritance laws. In some cases, the government itself may inherit your assets. Thus there are several reasons/goals for estate planning:

o Avoid any confusion as to whom your assets should be transferred to
o Ensure that your children have an appointed legal guardian of your choice if they are under the age of 18
o Guarantee that the people you want to receive your assets are granted them
o Reduce potential conflict among family members/descendants
o Minimize time in probate, taxes and legal expenses


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