What Should You Include in Your Estate Plan?

estate plan

When you think of an estate plan, you might just think about who your assets will be passed down to. This is a huge component of your estate plan, yes. However, there’s much more to estate planning than the distribution of your assets.

A proper estate plan should cover all of the bases for situations that crop up at the end of your life. So, what exactly should you include in your estate plan? We will go into that below, showing you precisely what proper will writing entails.

Your Last Will and Testament

Let’s get started with the obvious: you need to include your last will and testament. This is a document specifying the distribution of your property and assets.

A significant part of will writing and will planning is naming your beneficiaries. These are the individuals who will receive your assets. They most commonly include children, spouses, and, in some cases, friends.

You’ll also need to name an executor. This is someone who carries out the wishes of your will. While many choose someone close to them, others use their attorney as their executor.

You can also specify in your will and testament whether you’d like to donate any of your money to charity. This is a fairly common practice, especially amongst those who have large estates.

Also part of a last will and testament is language pertaining to the guardianship of your children and pets in the event that you die while they’re in your care. You’ll need to name specific guardians to ensure that there are no complications with the care of your children after you die.

Information Pertaining to Your Financial Accounts

In your last will and testament, you’ll specify the distribution of your held assets. However, you’ll have to separately specify the distribution of the money in your various accounts. These include life insurance accounts, retirement accounts, and pensions.

You’ll need to name beneficiaries for the money available in each account. This money can be allocated any way you want but the specifics need to be nailed within your estate plan.

Again, it’s customary to name one’s children and spouse as their beneficiaries. That said, you can legally name anybody you want. For instance, if you have close friends, you might consider giving some money to them.

Documents That Prove Your Identity

Your estate plan should also include documents that prove your identity. This way, there’s no question as to who the plan was meant for. Without these documents present, someone might be able to contest the plan, resulting in legal battles and an undesirable distribution of your assets.

Now, what documents do you need to include? These run the gamut from your birth certificate to your Social Security card to marriage certificates and the like.

Copies of these documents should be made and included in the plan. You should also keep these documents sorted so that they can be easily discovered upon your death. The last thing you want is for your relatives to have to search for these documents in the wake of your death.

Property Deeds

Do you own any property? If so, you need to make sure that your property deeds are included in your estate plan.

Having the property deed present simplifies the probate process for the courts. This enables the estate plan to go through more quickly and therefore results in quicker payouts to beneficiaries.

It also ensures that the ownership of your property can’t be contested. Therefore, it leaves no potential for property disputes after your death.

Note that, regardless of what’s written in your will, your property deed will overrule it. Therefore, if you co-own property with someone, that person will still assume ownership of the property after you die, even if you try to pass ownership to someone else in your will. In other words, make sure that your property deed is updated to reflect accurate ownership.

Vehicle Titles

It’s not just property deeds that need to be included in your estate plan. Vehicle titles need to be included as well.

If you’re not using a trust, you should ensure that you’re listed as the vehicle’s owner. If you are using a trust, you should name the trust as the vehicle’s owner.

Note, as with home deeds, the information on your vehicle titles will override all information written in your estate plan. Therefore, you need to make sure that your titles are updated as quickly as possible.

Advanced Healthcare Directive

Another thing that you’re going to want to include in your estate plan is an advanced healthcare directive. This is a document specifying your wishes in the event that you need life-saving healthcare.

For instance, you might not wish to be resuscitated in specific scenarios. Or, you might wish not to be put on life support. You can specify this information and more, ensuring that your end-of-life wishes are granted with accuracy and precision.

You’ll also need to name a healthcare agent in your estate. This individual will carry out your advanced healthcare directive while also making on-the-fly decisions as needed.

You can choose anyone as a healthcare agent. That said, most people choose a close friend or loved one.

Login Information for Your Digital Accounts

These days, everything is done online. As such, you probably have dozens of usernames and passwords for digital accounts. These include bank accounts, insurance accounts, Netflix accounts, and so on.

Now, there’s always a way to access these accounts in the event that the username or password is forgotten. However, it’s much easier and less time-consuming to just use usernames and passwords.

This is why you’re advised to include the usernames and passwords of your accounts in your estate plan. This way, upon your death, your executor and other relatives can access important information with little to no struggle.

Note that you can name a digital executor in your estate plan. This will be different from the executor in your living will and last will and testament.

Funeral Arrangements

Have a preference as to how your funeral is set up? If so, you’re going to need to include funeral arrangements in your estate plan.

These arrangements will first specify whether you want to be buried or cremated. They will then specify which cemetery you want to be buried in.

You can also designate specifics for the funeral itself. For instance, you can decide whether there’s a viewing. You can also decide on the music that is played and the literature that is read.

Want funeral visitors to donate to certain charities? You can specify that in your estate plan as well. For more information on what to include, consult your lawyer.

Financial Power of Attorney

After you die, you’re going to need someone to make financial decisions for the assets that aren’t included in your will. This is known as financial power of attorney.

The person you appoint to this position will pay your bills, take care of any businesses you might own, collect your insurance benefits for you, and more. It carries a great deal of responsibility and so should only be put in the hands of someone you trust.

Generally speaking, individuals choose close friends or family members. However, you could conceivably choose a lawyer or a financial advisor to carry out this task.

Revocable Living Trust

If you’re looking to avoid the probate process with your assets, you could put them in a revocable living trust instead of designating them in your will. Like a will, a trust allows you to distribute your assets as desired after your death. However, unlike a will, it doesn’t happen publicly and goes through much more quickly.

This can be hugely beneficial in the event that your beneficiaries need money in order to cover funeral costs and other expenses. Getting money back in a week as opposed to a few months allows them to facilitate your funeral without financial worry.

Now, how do you go about setting up a revocable trust? Your best bet is to consult an estate lawyer. Your lawyer will help you draw up your trust and will also help you decide on a successor trustee; this is the individual who will carry out the distribution of your assets after your death.

After the trust has been drawn up and signed, you’ll need to start transferring your assets over to it. This will need to be done continuously over time as more and more assets are accumulated.

Trusts are desirable for a number of individuals. However, they’re most beneficial for those with large estates and those who own businesses.

Guardians for Your Children

Do you have young children? If so, you’re strongly advised to select responsible guardians for them in the event of your death. If you don’t select guardians formally, a judge will make the deliberation as to who assumes the guardianship of your kids.

You can choose anyone to be your kids’ guardian. That said, you should speak with the prospective guardian first before naming them in your estate. They should have the financial means to support children, not to mention the temperament and will to do so as well.

Note, it’s generally wise to name secondary guardians as well. This way, should the primary guardians die, or should they decide that they aren’t able to raise children, the secondary guardians will be able to take over their duties with little legal resistance.

Personal Property Memorandum

Another item you’re going to want to include in your estate plan is a personal property memorandum. This is a document that you address to your executor. It details what exactly you want them to do with specific assets.

For instance, you might have an heirloom that you want to have passed down to your son. If so, you can state so in your letter of intent. You can also detail funeral arrangements, charitable preferences, and more.

A personal property memorandum isn’t legally binding in many states. That said, a probate judge can still use it to inform their deliberations. As such, it can help cover up any gray areas that exist within your will.

Need Help Setting Up an Estate Plan?

Are you in the process of planning your estate? Need help setting up an estate plan? If so, and if you’re looking to hire an estate lawyer in Savannah, GA, look no further than Smith Barid.

We’ve helped countless clients plan their estates, ensuring that all of their ducks are in a row and that their end-of-life wishes are exactly as they hope for them to be.

Contact us now to get the process started!


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