Many people think of an estate plan as having a will in place, maybe having a trust or power of attorney drawn up. And once those documents are drawn up and signed, they are good to go. While those are, of course, great steps in the right direction, here are 5 things you should do after those are drawn up to ensure your estate plan is complete.
Review retirement accounts
Any retirement accounts that allow you to identify a beneficiary should be reviewed. It is important to ensure you have beneficiaries designated and that you keep those beneficiary designations up-to-date. If you do this, those accounts will go directly to your beneficiaries and will not have to go through the probate process. It is a simpler, quicker way to get your assets to your loved ones. On top of insuring the right people inherit your property, proper designations may also allow beneficiaries to defer taxes, maximizing the value of the retirement accounts.
Assign TOD designations
Many accounts allow you to designate someone to which your property will “transfer on death”. This means that once you pass away, these accounts will be transferred directly to your loved ones, again by-passing the probate process. Keep in mind that if you are using a trust as part of your estate plan, you may not need TOD designations to avoid probate.
Accounts that typically allow you to have a TOD designation include bank savings, CDs, brokerage accounts and stocks. Again, make sure your designations are properly recorded and stay up-to-date. The key to this and retirement accounts is that these designations need to be made with the companies themselves, instead of in a will.
Assign beneficiaries for life insurance
In general, it’s a good idea to list at least two beneficiaries for life insurance, whether they each receive half or you list a back-up beneficiary. If your life insurance policies do not have beneficiaries designated, this money will go to your estate and have to pass through probate. This means two things: the person you wanted to receive the money may not receive it, and it will cost more money by going through probate. As with the first two to-dos listed above, it’s a good idea to review these designations once a year to ensure they are still in line with your wishes.
Talk with your family
It’s important, after you create your estate plan, to talk with your loved ones. This is particularly important for individuals who you have named as executors or guardians. While you should also have those conversations before naming them in your estate plan, to make sure they are willing and able to take on the role, it is also good to have a conversation afterwards to let them know they are named in your estate plan. You will also want to let them know where they can find your important documents should something happen to you. Ensuring everyone is on the same page now can reduce confusion down the road.
Make a plan to review and update your estate plan
Life happens and circumstances change. Plan to review your estate plan every few years to ensure it is still appropriate, given changes in the law and changes in your life. You should also plan to review your plan around major life events – births, marriages, divorces and deaths. This will ensure your wishes are carried out as seamlessly as possible.