Estate Planning

Estate Planning Documents and Checklist (2023)

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Estate planning is a crucial step in securing your legacy and ensuring that your assets are distributed according to your wishes after your passing.

By creating a comprehensive estate plan, you can provide clarity, minimize family conflicts, and protect your loved ones from unnecessary stress during a challenging time.

Below, we explore the essential estate planning documents you should consider and provide you with a helpful checklist to guide you through the process.

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What Is Estate Planning?

Estate planning protects your assets, distributes your wealth, appoints a power of attorney, and minimizes taxes and expenses. It is a complex process that requires careful consideration, professional guidance, and periodic reviews. By engaging in estate planning, you can provide financial security, protect your legacy, and ensure a smoother transition of your assets.

Here are some specific benefits of estate planning:

  • Asset protection: Estate planning safeguards your assets from creditors, lawsuits, and excessive taxation.
  • Wealth distribution: By creating a will or a trust, you can specify who will inherit your property, money, or other assets, minimizing the chances of disputes among family members and ensuring your intentions are honored.
  • Incapacity planning: Estate planning can help ensure that your wishes are respected if you become incapacitated.
  • Minimizing taxes and expenses: A well-designed estate plan takes into account the potential tax implications and aims to minimize estate taxes, gift taxes, and other related expenses.

Essential Estate Planning Documents

Estate planning is the process of creating legal documents that outline your wishes for your assets after your death. It is important to have an estate plan in place to ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes and that your loved ones are taken care of.

The essential estate planning documents include:

  • Last Will and Testament: The cornerstone of any estate plan is a Last Will and Testament. This document allows you to outline how you want your assets to be distributed after your passing. This document outlines how you want your assets to be distributed after your death. It also names an executor who will be responsible for carrying out your wishes.
  • Revocable Living Trust: A revocable living trust provides a flexible and efficient way to manage your assets both during your lifetime and after your death. This can help avoid probate court and provide more control over how your assets are distributed after your death.
  • Financial Power of Attorney: A financial power of attorney grants someone you trust the authority to manage your financial affairs if you become incapacitated. This person is known as your agent or attorney-in-fact. Selecting a reliable person for this role is crucial, as they will be handling your finances during a time when you are unable to do so yourself.
  • Healthcare Power of Attorney: A healthcare power of attorney designates someone to make medical decisions for you when you are unable to do so. This person is known as your agent or attorney-in-fact.
  • Living Will: In conjunction with a healthcare power of attorney, a living will allows you to express your wishes regarding life-sustaining treatments and other medical interventions, such as whether or not you want to be on life support.

Keep in mind that it is important to review and update your estate plan regularly, especially if your life circumstances change. For example, if you get married, divorced, have children, or change your beneficiaries, you should update your estate plan.

If you do not have an estate plan, it is important to speak with an attorney to get started. An attorney can help you create an estate plan that meets your specific needs.

Click here to read our Living Trust vs Living Will article.

Estate Planning Checklist

With several documents to think of, where do you start? To help you stay organized and ensure you cover all the essential aspects of estate planning, here is a checklist to guide you:

  • Assess Your Assets: Take inventory of your assets, including property, bank accounts, investments, and personal belongings.
  • Identify Your Goals: Determine your objectives for estate planning, such as providing for your loved ones, minimizing taxes, supporting charitable causes, or protecting assets for future generations.
  • Choose a Trusted Executor and/or Trustee: Select a person or professional entity to carry out your wishes as outlined in your will or trust.
  • Consult an Estate Planning Attorney: Seek the advice of an experienced estate planning attorney who can guide you through the legal requirements and help you create the necessary documents.
  • Review and Update Beneficiary Designations: Ensure that beneficiary designations on retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and other financial assets reflect your current intentions.
  • Consider Guardianship for Minor Children: If you have minor children, name a guardian who will care for them in the event of your death or incapacity.
  • Create a Digital Estate Plan: Determine how you want your digital assets, such as online accounts and social media profiles, to be managed or transferred.
  • Review and Update Regularly: Regularly review and update your estate plan to reflect any changes in your financial situation, family circumstances, or personal wishes.

Attorney vs Professional Estate Planning Services

Deciding between hiring an attorney for estate planning or opting for professional estate planning services depends on your individual circumstances and preferences. While both options have their merits, it’s important to consider the following factors before making a decision.

Hiring an Attorney

Pros

  • Attorneys have specialized knowledge of estate planning laws.
  • They can provide personalized advice and guidance based on your specific circumstances.
  • They can help you navigate complex legal matters and ensure your estate plan is legally sound.

Cons

  • Attorneys can be expensive.
  • The process of hiring an attorney can be time-consuming.

Professional Services

Pros

  • Professional services are typically more affordable than hiring an attorney.
  • The process of using professional services can be more convenient.

Cons

  • Professional services may not offer the same level of personalized advice and guidance as an attorney.
  • They may not have the same level of expertise in estate planning laws.

Why Opt For Professional Estate Planning Services?

People opt for professional estate planning services due to their expertise, personalized advice, and ability to navigate complex situations.

Estate planning professionals, including specialized firms, possess in-depth knowledge of estate planning laws, offer tailored guidance based on individual circumstances, and address specific concerns. They assist in drafting and preparing legally valid documents, minimizing errors and potential disputes.

Professionals also provide peace of mind, ensuring assets are protected and loved ones are taken care of according to the individual’s intentions. With their specialized knowledge and experience, professional estate planning services offer reassurance, convenience, and confidence in creating a comprehensive and legally sound estate plan.

While some may choose online platforms or DIY options, the expertise and personalized attention provided by professionals are highly valued by individuals seeking a thorough and well-crafted estate plan.

Our Pick
Safeguard your family's future with a LegalZoom Estate Plan
Save $100 on an Estate Plan Bundles

For a low price, obtain a living will, financial power of attorney, and choose between a last will or living trust. 

We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

Trust & Will and LegalZoom are just two of the leading platforms for online estate planning services. Apart from their bundle packages, the companies also offer attorney assistance as an add-on feature to most of their estate plans.

Both Trust & Will and LegalZoom can be viable options for individuals seeking affordable and convenient estate planning services. However, it’s important to understand that they may not be suitable for everyone, particularly those with complex estates or intricate family situations.

For straightforward estate planning needs, Trust & Will and LegalZoom offer accessible solutions that can help you create essential documents such as wills, trusts, and powers of attorney. However, for more complex cases or individuals seeking a higher level of personalized attention and guidance, consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney might be the better option.

Read: How much does a will cost on LegalZoom?

Verdict

Estate planning is important for individuals to protect their assets, ensure their wishes are fulfilled, and provide for their loved ones after they’re gone. 

While hiring an attorney or opting for professional estate planning services both have their advantages and disadvantages, the key is to consider the complexity of your estate, the need for personalized advice, legal knowledge and updates, cost considerations, and personal comfort.

Attorneys offer expertise, tailored solutions, and ongoing legal guidance, which is beneficial for complex estates and unique concerns, but they can be more expensive. On the other hand, professional estate planning services provide convenience, affordability, and accessibility, making them suitable for simpler estates.

Ultimately, the decision depends on individual circumstances and preferences.

Regardless of the chosen route, prioritizing estate planning is essential to create a comprehensive and legally sound plan that safeguards assets, minimizes risks, and brings peace of mind.

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