No matter how much you have in the way of assets, just the thought of setting up your estate plan will probably seem daunting. You might be surprised at how efficiently your planning session can be managed if you are well-organized going in.
Consider the elements
Here are some of the elements of an estate plan:
- A will, in which you will name your beneficiaries, your executor or personal representative and who should take care of your minor children in the event of your death
- A trust, which is a vehicle to hold your assets
- Life insurance proceeds to be paid to the beneficiary you name
- Gifts, which are transfers of property that you can make during your lifetime
Using the elements of your estate plan, you can begin to draw up lists. On one list, put down the people you want as heirs, such as your close family members, special friends and charities. Do not forget those with special needs or how you want your pets to be cared for after you are gone. Use another list for your financial information or create a spreadsheet for this purpose. Here you will set out your assets and debts. You should include your home, your car or boat, bank and investment accounts, IRAs and retirement accounts, insurance policies, jewelry and any valuable collections.
Accounting for changes
An experienced attorney will advise you to update your estate plan from time to time. There will be many changes in your life—births, deaths, marriages, divorces—that will affect your estate plan to one degree or another. For example, the person you originally selected as your executor may pass away unexpectedly. You may divorce your current spouse and remarry at some point. Grandchildren may be born, and a friend you originally listed as a beneficiary may disappear. Remember that you are leaving a legacy. Having good organization to begin with and making the effort to update as necessary can better ensure that you have a well thought out, well-constructed estate plan.