Leaving unanswered questions about how to settle your affairs can cause more difficulty for your loved ones. Having an estate plan in place is an important step that everyone should take.
Let’s look at a few tips to help ensure you prepare to create a proper estate plan. It is advisable to seek the help of a professional to finalize and properly document your plan.
Estate Planning Checklist
Organize your financial information
List all of your accounts, the institution names and account numbers. For example, list your CalSTRS or CalPERS pension information; any relevant information about other retirement savings plans; checking and savings accounts; brokerage accounts; bonds; insurance policies, etc. Include your Social Security number. Be careful not to leave this information on desktops or in unprotected computer files.
Create a list of all your assets and liabilities
Date and update it on a periodic basis.
Name an executor (a personal representative) for your estate
This is the person who will administer your estate. This person's duties involve protecting your property until all debts and taxes have been paid, and transferring what’s left to those who are entitled to it according to your wishes. The executor may have to handle real estate, investing, accounting and legal issues.
Choose a guardian if you have minor children or other dependents
Be sure you discuss this possibility with the person you have chosen. You might also name a different person as guardian of the dependent's estate.
Complete a durable power of attorney
This will allow another person to make financial and personal decisions for you if you are incapacitated and unable to communicate your wishes.
Complete advance health care directives
This will allow you to direct your medical care if you become incapacitated and unable to communicate your wishes.
Review how your assets are titled
For example, your CalPERS or CalSTRS pension and your 403(b) or 457 plan assets will pass to your designated beneficiary or beneficiaries, regardless of what you put in your will. Be sure that your beneficiary designations on retirement plans, insurance policies and annuities are consistent with your estate planning goals.
Create a will
Spell out how you want your property distributed as specifically as possible. Include a separate list of personal property that may not have significant financial value, but has sentimental value to your family.
Provide final instructions
Let your family and friends know whether you prefer burial or cremation, what religious or other ceremonies you may prefer, preferences for memorials, etc. Put your wishes in writing and make sure that family members are familiar with the document.
Should I visit a professional?
Meeting with an attorney and/or estate planner is recommended for everyone. You’ll have peace of mind knowing that your estate plan follows legal guidelines and that your wishes will be carried out according to plan. When choosing an attorney and/or estate planner, be sure to conduct your due diligence on his or her background and qualifications.
State Bar of California: http://members.calbar.ca.gov/search/member.aspx*
Estate planners: www.naepc.org (National Association of Estate Planners & Councils) *
*Web site provided for information only. No endorsement is implied.