Help Your Clients Get Affairs In Order With This Estate Planning Checklist

Help Your Clients Get Affairs In Order With This Estate Planning Checklist

The Estateably Team
June 5, 2024

A comprehensive estate plan is essential to protect your clients’ loved ones and preserve their legacy for the future. If wishes aren’t made clear, families can face an uphill struggle to settle affairs after death. But in the blur of day-to-day life, estate planning can seem like a daunting task and easily slip down the to-do list.

An estate planning checklist offers a list of actionable steps your clients can use to make sure their property is managed in line with their wishes.  Ultimately, it’s a great way to assist your clients to ensure they have everything covered, and set the foundation for a smoother estate administration process further down the line.  

Is the Checklist the Same for all Jurisdictions?

No matter where you’re crafting an estate plan, the checklist will be broadly the same. While some of the finer details will vary depending on the jurisdiction—each state or province will have its own tax obligations, for example—the principles still apply. Wills, trusts and asset inventories belong in every estate planning documents checklist, across all jurisdictions.

Take Inventory of Assets

The first step in any estate planning project is to inventorize your client’s assets. It’s not just about the funds in their bank accounts; their estate also includes assets such as stocks and shares, as well as physical assets including real estate, art, and antiques. When listing assets, be sure to include important items of sentimental value too.

List All Liabilities

When executors determine the overall value of the estate after time of death, a list of all liabilities is required. These have to be paid off before the estate can start making distributions to the beneficiaries. It’s important your clients document all of their debts - including mortgage, car finance, and any credit cards they’re currently using - to make everything as smooth as possible for executors.

Review Beneficiary Designations

Beneficiary designations determine who will inherit particular assets from your client’s estate. These designations should be reviewed regularly, and particularly after major transitions like marriage or divorce. Estate documents need to keep pace with any notable changes to circumstance or family structure, otherwise your clients risk sparking family friction or even legal challenges when affairs are being settled.

Establish a Will or Trust

These documents form the centrepiece of an estate plan. Making a will is your client’s opportunity to list all their assets and determine who will receive what in the event of their death. At this time, guardians should also be named for any dependents. Depending on the circumstances, your client might want to consider establishing a trust. This could be an asset protection trust to shield their  property from creditor claims, a charitable trust, or a vehicle to hold assets in trust for a minor until they come of age.

Consider Life Insurance Needs

One of the key pillars of any estate plan is life insurance. Make sure you remind your clients to review their policy carefully and ensure the right names are listed as beneficiaries. There are a number of different ways that life insurance can benefit your client’s estate, but the most obvious way is that it provides immediate funds for their loved ones after their death.

Appoint a Durable Power of Attorney

An estate planning checklist doesn’t just help you and your client protect their heirs, it also gives them peace of mind for their own future needs. Appointing a durable power of attorney is an essential component of any estate plan. Here, your client will name someone to manage their financial affairs in the event they become incapacitated. It remains in place until they cancel it, or until their death.

Choose a Healthcare Proxy

In addition to financial affairs, your clients may need to appoint someone to make medical decisions on their behalf as well. That’s why it’s important to name a healthcare proxy in the estate plan: this person will advocate for your client if they become unable to make their own healthcare decisions due to an accident or illness.

Plan for Estate Taxes

Both state and federal taxes can carve out a large chunk of an estate, so it’s crucial to plan for estate taxes in order to maximize the overall value for heirs and beneficiaries. The tax implications can be complex, so it’s a good idea for clients to consult with a professional who can advise on estate tax planning strategies such as putting assets into a trust in order to bypass probate.

Document Your Final Wishes

One of the main goals of an estate planning checklist for anyone looking to get their affairs in order is to facilitate the estate administration process later on. So it’s important that your clients document their final wishes in a letter to the executor. While not legally binding, this letter gathers all essential information in one place and includes any details that loved ones might find helpful, from wishes regarding funeral arrangements to a list of key contact details.

Store Documents Securely

It goes without saying that estate planning documents need to be stored securely, whether that’s in a safe deposit box at the bank or a fireproof box at home. Details of the whereabouts should be entailed in the final wishes letter so that any executor can access the will and any trust documents easily.

Regularly Update the Estate Plan

Life doesn’t stand still, and creating an estate plan isn’t a one-and-done exercise. Make sure you advise your clients to review their documents regularly to check that their assets and liabilities are all up to date, or to amend their beneficiaries. You might also want to review it periodically with them to take any regulation or tax changes into account.

Streamline Estate Administration with Estateably

Comprehensive estate planning sets the scene for an estate to be administered more easily and smoothly after someone’s death. By working through an estate planning checklist, individuals can clearly set out wishes and make the process simpler for executors and your loved ones.

Estateably’s software solution builds on these foundations to simplify the next stage of the process. Our technology platform helps trust and estate professionals streamline estate administration by automating tasks such as report generation, document creation and accounting. While a well-crafted estate plan lays the groundwork, we’ll help you pick up the baton to ensure that the administration process is as efficient as possible. Book a demo to find out how.

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