Estate Planning Checklist: Getting Started

estate planning typewriter

Having an estate plan is a good idea no matter how wealthy you are or what your stage of life. Did you know that if you have never worked with an attorney to develop one, the state in which you live has one for you. Really?! Yes, really.  Every state has laws in place that apply to those who die without a properly drafted will or trust.  These are called the laws of intestacy. These laws determine, without your input, how and to whom your property will be distributed and who is on charge of your estate.

Where do you start?  At Kokish Goldmanis & Greenberg, PC, we specialize in estate and trust law and family law. This includes estate planning, a term used to describe the implementation of documents that provide protection for you in the event of your incapacity, a clear plan for the disposition of your assets when you die, and often, protection for your loved ones that remains in place years after your death. 

Estate planning can be simple or very complex. It is difficult to know where to start if you have never been through the estate planning process. We have developed a brief checklist to help you start to make sense of it all and select the right estate planning attorney. 

Start with the Basics

There are a few fundamental estate planning questions to consider before planning with a professional.  These include:

  • What do you want to happen to your assets when you die? 
  • Who will care for your minor children if you become incapacitated or die before they are able to take care of themselves? 
  • Who will make medical and financial decisions for you if you become unable to make them for yourself?
  • What, if any, medical interventions do you want if you are at the end of life and about to die?
  • Who do you want to handle the distribution of your estate when you die?
  • Do you want protections in place for your beneficiaries?
estate planning checklist

Obtain Legal Advice to Develop a Comprehensive Plan

Good estate planning goes beyond a will or a trust.  A comprehensive plan is comprised of several documents, some which offer you protection while you are alive, and some that protect your family when you die.  An experienced estate planner will work with you to develop a plan tailored to your family and wishes.  Any such plan should include these essential documents:

  • Will and/or Trust
  • Financial Power of Attorney
  • Medical Power of Attorney
  • Living Will
  • Stand-Alone HIPAA Authorization
  • Personal Property Memoranda
  • Disposition of Last Remains (Funeral Planning Document)

If you and your attorney decide a trust works best for you, your plan should include these additional documents:

  • Trust
  • Assignment of Personal Property
  • Certificate of Trust

If you have children under the age of 18:

  • Authorization for Care of Children
  • Appointment of Guardian / Conservator

Review of any Accounts or Assets with Beneficiary Designations or Joint Title

In addition to having the essential planning documents in place, a comprehensive estate plan includes making sure that any bank accounts, life insurance policies, and investment accounts have appropriate beneficiary designations, pay-on-death designations (POD), or transfer-on-death designations (TOD).  These should be reviewed with your estate planning attorney to confirm that these designations match your overall estate plan.  For example, your attorney should review your beneficiary designations to make sure you have not named a minor child or grandchild as a beneficiary of any accounts.  In Colorado, any child under the age of 18 who inherits property valued at more than $10,000 will need to have a conservator appointed by the court to manage that money until that child or grandchild reaches age 21. This can easily be avoided with thorough estate planning.

Talk to an Insurance Broker

As strange as it might sound, dying is expensive. 

The average funeral in the United States costs between $7,000 and $12,000 for very basic services. If you or your loved one dies with substantial debt, there may be insufficient assets left in the estate to ensure the financial wellbeing of the surviving spouse or surviving minor children. Life insurance can eliminate or diminish the financial loss that often comes with the death of a working family member.  

At Kokish and Goldmanis, PC, we help families to succeed.  Part of that success begins with thorough and professional estate planning.  To schedule a review of your unique family situation with one of our estate planners, contact our offices today. 

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