Estate planning checkup: 15 minutes to put you on a good path


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Estate planning is sort of like golf, tennis or baseball; if you don’t have good follow-through, you’re probably bad at it. It’s great to recognize that you may not understand everything about your estate plan, but you know that saying about good intentions.


We’re sure you’d rather read an article about something exciting, like how to plan a road trip or how to buy your first house. But you’re here, we’re here. And we’ve designed a 15-minute checkup to help you start or update your estate planning. It may take you a few hours to complete a thorough review, but these 15 minutes will give you the momentum to take that final swing.


To keep you and us honest, you can use the timer app on your phone to keep track. We’ll provide prompts for what to time.

Make a List of Your Stuff

That is, what do you own that you want to pass on? Maybe you have jewelry or an old coin collection. Maybe you have knick knacks and souvenirs you picked up when you were traveling the globe? The list may end up being for you, to help you stay organized, or it may be something you pass onto your estate administrator or executor who will someday be in charge of your belongings. Either way, you have to start somewhere. Start by creating a single list, or if you own a lot of stuff, a lot of lists.


And don’t put this off. “The ideal time to start thinking about estate planning is right now,” says Mitch Mitchell, associate counsel of estate planning at Trust & Will, an estate planning website and the official estate planning benefit provider for AARP members.


Mitchell says that in his experience, he sees people mostly in their 50s starting to create an estate plan, but even if you’re much younger, especially if you have kids, that’s not a bad time to start.


Take 5 minutes right now and start your list. You won’t finish, and that’s OK. Just open a document on your phone or computer and jot for 5 minutes straight. Don’t blame us if you end up working on this for 15 or 20 minutes. If you already have this list, take 5 minutes to find your document (and if you can’t find it, you can start to see why follow-through is so important).

Find Your Estate Administrator

Since we brought it up, let’s talk about this next. Somebody needs to be in charge of dispersing your possessions once you’re no longer around to do it. You may also want a few people in charge of different tasks, such as somebody handling the role of power of attorney, which means they’re in charge of making your legal or financial decisions if you’re alive but unable to do so.


Lindsay Graves, an elder law attorney and founding partner at the Graves Law Firm in North Canton, Ohio, cautions people to be careful when assigning roles like the power of attorney and executor of a will to your children, or nominating the oldest child to do everything.


“Having the wrong person in a role can lead to conflict rather than clarifying and simplifying the plan for everyone involved,” Graves says.


In other words, mull this over before making a decision.


Here are 4 questions to answer right now. We mean it. Write these answers down and email them to yourself.

  • Who in the next generation do I trust?
  • Who in the next generation is the most organized?
  • Who in the next generation knows my wishes and will respect them?
  • Who in the next generation is the best communicator or best diplomat?

Go with your gut answer now, but circle back to these and consider a bit more before settling on your financial decision.

Make a List of Your Financial Accounts (and Passwords)

So you’ve made a list of all the valuables that you want your family or friends to have. Good. But you should also be working on a list of the wealth in various accounts, such as a 401(k) plan or an IRA. If you have a life insurance policy that beneficiaries will need to know about, you’ll want to add that to the list. Whoever has your power of attorney will eventually need to be able to access this and will need to know where to find the passwords to all of your accounts, checking, savings and so on.


“That’s very important,” Graves says. She explains that often, people don’t think about passwords. “They have a variety of accounts and investments that no one else knows how to access,” she says.


This list can be hard, especially if you have old accounts, like an old 401(k), floating around. For this exercise, spend 3 minutes creating a calendar appointment where you promise yourself you’ll sit down and do this work. Reschedule if you have to, but DON’T let this appointment fall off your calendar!

Write a Will

Your executor isn’t going to know what your wishes are, unless it’s clearly spelled out in writing. In theory, you can verbally tell an executor what you’d like done, but that isn’t likely to hold up in court. If you want a guarantee that things are going to work out the way you hope they will, you need to set up a will.


That could mean going to an estate planning attorney or finding an online, reputable software program to draft the will. But, you have to do this right. Don’t create a Word document with some wishes on it and hope that it will suffice. Odds are, it won’t.


“Everyone needs a will,” Mitchell says. “People who expect that they will not have enough personal income or resources, and so will need to qualify for public benefits like Medicaid, should meet with a lawyer to learn what they need to do in addition to estate planning.”


For this task, use 5 minutes and think of a person you trust that will hold you accountable. Now, text or call them and ask them to be your accountability partner. Tell them the deadline when you plan to complete or update your will and that you’d like them to hold you accountable. In exchange, you can compensate them in a non-monetary way, such as serving as their accountability buddy for something that they’ve been meaning to do.

Consider Creating Other Documents

In addition to choosing your power of attorney and writing your will, you may also want to create a living will, which is a written, legal document that explains what medical treatments you want if you’re in a situation where you’re incapacitated, like a coma. You might also want to create a healthcare proxy, which is a document that names somebody you trust to make healthcare decisions for you. It’s similar to the power of attorney role, but it doesn’t involve legal and monetary decisions.


If any of these documents caught your eye, go ahead and use one of the above methods to make sure you get started, including making a calendar appointment or asking someone to be your accountability buddy.

15 Minutes Are Over, But You Need To Keep Chipping Away

If you’ve faithfully followed our 15-minute plan, you’ve created momentum to get your plans in order. Congratulations! Keep it up.


“Because estate planning is not a fun topic, I find that people put it off far too long — usually until something happens that causes them to make sure they have something, anything set up,” Graves says. The problem with delaying putting together an estate plan is that if you’re doing it when you’re ill or injured, your options on what you can do may be limited.


This leads us to our last hack, having a purpose beyond your own benefit. If you have children, grandchildren or pets, you probably want to leave them as much wealth as possible, whether that’s actual treasure or simply treasured souvenirs you picked up during a well-lived life.


“We spend decades saving, investing and planning for retirement only to get there and realize that taxes, medical costs, market volatility and inflation, just to name a few, are threatening to take away what we have worked so hard for,” Graves says.


Yes, Graves is correct. Earning wealth, and keeping it, is hard enough. It would be a shame if your family wasn’t able to reap the benefits of your hard work simply because your estate plan wasn’t in order.


So if you find yourself lagging in enthusiasm, use these hacks to start making progress again. You want to leave your loved ones with a legacy — not a financial and legal mess that they’ll have to clean up.


This article originally appeared on and was syndicated by

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Everything you need to know about estate planning


Estate planning might seem like something meant only for the old or sick, but that’s not the case — especially in today’s day and age. In a world of global pandemics and other unpredictable events that could put you or your family members into turmoil, it’s important to spend some time deciding what will happen to you or your assets if you become incapacitated or when you someday die.

Although this might be a gloomy thing to consider, having an estate plan in place can offer much-needed peace of mind if the unexpected occurs, and when the inevitable takes place. This type of planning can put everything in order for your loved ones, from a living will to insurance to the handling of estate taxes.

Here are some of the basics about estate planning that you’ll want to know, and a few reasons why you’re never too young to get started.

Related: 7 money moves to make if you have more than $50,000 in your 401(k)


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The aspect of estate planning that most of us are more familiar with involves mapping out what will happen to your assets (bank accounts, real estate, other valuable personal property, etc.) when you die. But estate planning also involves thinking ahead to what will need to be handled if you become incapacitated due to illness or an accident. The goal of estate planning is to simplify the legal aspect of things for your beneficiaries so they don’t have to endure a lengthy and expensive probate process.

The planning process and the filing of the associated legal documents are typically conducted with the help of an estate planning attorney or an estate planner who specializes in the field. Estate planners may also have a background in areas like insurance and finance. A professional specializing in estate planning can help you prepare all the necessary documents and walk you through the challenges your designated beneficiaries may face.





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One of the most important documents in your estate planning is your last will and testament. Wills are important because they determine who will receive your assets when you die. This might include money you’ve invested in retirement accounts (like a 401(k) and/or IRA), any businesses or patents you own and physical assets like properties and other things of value.


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A power of attorney allows someone else to handle your legal, financial and even medical matters. Durable means this person can step in even if you become mentally incapacitated due to illness or other circumstances. Although you can appoint one person to be your durable power of attorney, you can also split out powers of attorney between different people to act in a particular area. For example, you might choose someone to act just as your financial power of attorney.


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health care proxy is a type of advanced directive. The person named in your health care proxy is your medical power of attorney and is able to make medical care decisions on your behalf in the event that you cannot make them yourself. There are other types of health care directives you may consider in your planning as well.


 If you provide a significant portion of your family’s income, it’s a good idea not only to have a life insurance policy, but also to truly understand how much life insurance you need. These policies will not only help support your family in the event of your death, but they can also provide the cash needed to keep your assets intact. For example, they can help pay for unexpected tax expenses.


Setting up what’s called a living trust allows you to start planning for the allocation of your assets while you’re still alive. Most living trusts are revocable, which means you can change them whenever you want, though some people may opt for irrevocable trusts that cannot be changed.


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If you or one of your beneficiaries are passionate about a particular charity, this will allow for either of you to donate a portion of your assets.


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Funerals can be expensive, with the average one costing between $7,000 and $10,000 in 2018. Making a plan for how you’d like your funeral to be handled and paid for is an important element in estate planning, and it takes a lot of pressure off your surviving family members.


If you have any dependents or minor children, it’s important to name a guardian for them somewhere within your estate planning documentation. This ensures your loved ones will be taken care of by the people you trust most in the event of your death. This is particularly critical if you have special needs dependents.


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The transfer of assets can result in complicated federal estate tax and inheritance taxes on the state level as well. For this reason, tax planning is another element of comprehensive estate planning regardless of the value of the estate. This type of planning will facilitate a smoother distribution of assets without unexpected tax expenses.


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You’ll also want to name an executor of your estate. This person will be responsible for carrying out all your wishes and instructions within the estate planning documents. This person plays the important role of ensuring things are carried out the way you intended them to be.


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Estate planning is important because it guarantees your assets are distributed the way you’d like them to be. Although you might think the value of your estate doesn’t warrant a plan, consider that estate planning encompasses far more than just bank accounts and also encompasses health care decisions that may be made on your behalf.

If you happen to die without an estate plan in place, the state you live in will likely allocate your assets on your behalf. This can be messy for a number of reasons, especially because each state has its own protocol. Roughly speaking, most states will first try to give your assets to your spouse and children, followed by your living parents or siblings. If this isn’t what you want, or if you want to allocate your assets in a particular way, it’s best to create an estate plan ahead of time.

Because estate planning can also involve health care directives and powers of attorney, it can also play a valuable role should you become incapacitated and require long-term care. This is something that could happen to any of us at any time due to the unpredictable nature of life and accidents.

Another thing to consider is the stress that a lack of planning can put on your living family members. Maybe your kids believe they’re entitled to something your spouse wants, or your siblings swear you promised them the vacation property you’ve shared since childhood. Whatever your assets and financial affairs look like, a lack of planning can cause a lot of tension and irreparable emotional damage in the family after you’re gone.

Without a plan in place, you may inadvertently leave your loved ones to take the matter to probate court to fight for certain assets. This can be an expensive and drawn-out legal process. You can avoid leaving drama behind you by taking measures to properly plan out your estate, and appoint the right people to carry out your wishes once you’re gone.


Once you’re ready to get started with estate planning, it’s good to be aware of the federal and state taxes that may be involved. Different states handle estate planning taxes differently, and depending on the size of your estate and specifics of how you plan to allocate your assets, it might be a good idea to hire an attorney.

Beyond the complications of tax laws, there are a few other ways you can get started with regard to your estate planning before involving an attorney. To start, you might write down your beneficiary designations and explain what you’d like each one to inherit. If you have kids, maybe it’s time to call up the person you trust most and ask whether they’d be willing to become a legal guardian. You might also start thinking about who you’d like to appoint as an executor and health care proxy, and start having honest discussions with those people.

Finally, if you haven’t yet, start shopping around for the best life insurance for your needs. The right insurance plan will offer a lot of comfort to your family should the worst happen. And in the present, it will provide good peace of mind for you to know they’ll have the income they need.


Studio Firma


Estate planning might seem like something you don’t have to worry about just yet, but if you have any financial accounts worth inheriting or any family members counting on you, it’s a good thing to start now. An estate plan can be something you slowly put together, just like your retirement plans. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive, and an expert estate planner can help facilitate the process.

Start by talking with your beneficiaries and executor to share your plans, and then reach out to a professional to help you put them in writing. That way, even if the unexpected does happen — the people you love most will be left in good hands.

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This article originally appeared on and was syndicated by


Featured Image Credit: Studio Firma.