Estate planning is one of those things everyone has on their to-do list, but rarely do we get to do it! We never seem to have time to get to it. As a busy parent, you do things every day to protect your children and their future, you ensure they eat the right food, finish their homework and get enough rest at night.
Planning for their future by putting together an estate plan is also important – only you can take this step to protect your assets and your children.
The process may seem daunting, especially with everything else on your plate, but we’ve devised a way to streamline it and make it easier to manage, even for a busy parent like you!
These 16 easy steps will catapult you through the assessment and organization of your estate so you can maximize the value of your time with your estate planning attorney.
1-Create a list of all of your financial accounts – don’t forget your online access details.
How many of us have all of our financial accounts organized on a spreadsheet?
Hardly anyone, what parent has time to organize this?
Most of us just “know” what accounts we have but have no centralized place with the accounts, account numbers, access details and contact information.
This is going to be one of the first questions your estate planning attorney asks you, so take some time now to put together a list of your accounts, how to access them and the balances. Don’t forget to include any retirement accounts, pensions or veteran’s benefits. Remember, Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid planning will come into play as well.
Go to your computer, open a new document and write list of all of your financial accounts, including checking and savings accounts, brokerage accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, health savings accounts, life insurance plans, educational savings plans (like 529 plans), anything you can possibly think of that has to do with your financial situation.
Make sure to include website URLs, usernames, and passwords for any accounts that may be accessed online. Save and secure the document with a password you can share with your estate planning attorney.
2-Safeguard your digital future with a document giving email and social media account access.
Should your email and social media accounts be part of your estate planning? What about your photo sharing sites? Your computer? Absolutely. Your children will certainly want these, for their own memories and for family history.
Your Facebook account, while a good way to pass the time while you are waiting for your kids at their activities, is also a record of your life, your personality and your day to day living. These can be treasured memories for children, especially as they become parents themselves and look back on YouTube videos of their first steps or first words. Many social media sites will also memorialize a user’s account or can be set up to send out a notification of your death so that the news will reach your digital friends as well as your real life friends.
Just like your financial accounts, write down an inventory of what online accounts you have, what hardware you have and how to access these accounts.
Remember to include mobile devices like your smartphone and tablet, and any cloud-based storage or backup sites.
3-Gather all of your property documentation in one place.
You probably already assumed this one, but gather all of your property documentation in one place. That means pull it out of the boxes in the garage, the attic and the bank. Titles, deeds, liens, mortgage documents, put it all together for your estate planning attorney.
This isn’t a list, these are the physical documents, so grab a folder or an envelope to carry things in.
Don’t forget to include your home, vehicles, any boats or recreational vehicles and any land you may own.
For Social Security or Medicare and Medicaid planning purposes, include benefit statements from the Social Security Administration. Any property you have amassed should go in this folder. If you can’t find the property documents, contact the local authority or lien holder.
4-Account for all of your debts and assets to avoid unclaimed stocks and bonds.
Just a warning – this is going to be time-consuming – but doing so now will make things much easier for your children. I know, you are thinking, who has time for this? But, remember that when you are no longer with your children your estate is going to have to pay down your debts first before allocating their inheritance.
Don’t make your children guess what you owe or what is owed to your estate.
This is a real headache and an additional stressor for your children. So grab a pen or your list making app and start a comprehensive list by including any stock and bonds you have purchased or those that may have been purchased in your name when you were a child.
Ask older relatives if you don’t know. Then move on to your current debts and assets. We often overlook long matured government savings bonds and things like that which have sat in a drawer for the last two decades!
5-Gather and store all of your most important personal documents in a safe place.
I know — you are thinking this is the most obvious of the entire list, but so many people forget to include personal documents in their estate planning preparations!
Beyond identity documents like birth certificates and marriage certificates, think about loan payoff documents, income tax returns, social security cards, military discharge paperwork, warranties, anything that you received and thought, “Oh, I should keep that!”
Now is the time to find it and ask your estate planning attorney where it is best to store these items for safe keeping.
6-Protect your family history by safely storing records and heirlooms.
Here’s where things get a little personal. Your family history is the most important thing you can give your children – it is their identity.
Put together journals, diaries, scrapbooks, baby books, all of those personal items that record the important things in your life.
Even in this day and age of having everything online, our baby’s first footprints, first report card, mother’s day cards and those little items we treasure in our heart are still kept in a drawer. Don’t let these pile up scattered around the house where they will be easily lost and missed. Organize them in one place so you can include their location in your estate planning.
7-Ensure smoother estate planning by making a thorough list of important contact information.
Your estate planning attorney is going to need to know who to contact and how to get ahold of them – think your executor and designer, your banker, your childcare provider, your emergency contact, all those people who help your life to run.
Update your address book (if you still use one!) or your smartphone contacts so you can easily access important contact information while you meet with your attorney.
8-Write an emergency contact list of friends and other individuals who should be alerted in case of your illness, injury or passing.
Not everyone wants everything on Facebook! If you do, that is ok, but if you don’t, put together a list of people you want notified if something should happen to you. Your children are likely going to be distraught and distracted and may not remember or know how to get ahold of people like your college roommate or an ex-partner.
Feel like you are making a lot of lists? You are. Let’s make another one.
Grab your favorite pad of paper or your phone and write this list down. Be sure to include phone numbers, email addresses and full names. If you think your children will be really clueless, include a relationship note so they know why the person is important to you.
9-Avoid lost property with a thorough list of your safety deposit box locations and their contents.
Safety deposit boxes seem like a relic of the past but believe it or many families still have them and don’t realize it! This may be one of the easiest ones to do on your list, so why not knock it out right now?
Grab a pen and paper or the note app on your smartphone and create a list of any safety deposit boxes or safes, the locations, contents and where the keys or codes are located.
10-Take control of estate planning by writing a list of heirs, including your desired health care proxy.
Your estate planning attorney will walk you through this, but while you are waiting for your kids today put together a list of heirs, including whomever you want to be your healthcare proxy. Your heirs don’t have to be just your children.
Some people include nieces, nephews or close friends who you want to inherit some of your estate.
Some people have even included pets!
Your attorney will walk you through the who and what, but it is best to walk in with a list of names.
11-Create a medical history file.
Your kids could care less about your medical history now, and will probably roll their eyes at the suggestion, but trust me when they are older they will want to know.
Log onto your electronic medical record and download your files and reports so your children have an accounting of your health and wellness.
12-Include Veteran, Medicare, and Medicaid Planning.
Your estate planning attorney will likely include aspects of long-term care in your estate plan, such as Medicaid planning. If you require long-term care you will likely qualify for some Medicaid assistance for when your personal assets run out.
Medicaid benefits vary greatly from person to person so it is important to gather all of your medical and life insurance documents before you meet with your estate planning attorney.
Careful Medicaid and medicare planning can help protect your estate.
An estate planning attorney can walk you through your benefits.
13-Help paint a clear financial picture by noting all of your current income, its sources and all of your bills.
Ok, this one might sound scary, but you will definitely want to have an accurate picture of your financial situation when you start estate planning. If you already have a monthly budget, that is a great place to start. Open a spreadsheet.
Start by recording all of your income and its sources (this should be easy to do if you balance your checkbook or review your bank statements!).
Don’t forget to include interest from financial accounts or alimony and child support payments. Then do the same for your bills.
14-Make it easy to find all of your computer files related to estate planning.
One of those things that never seems to get cleaned up is our computer filing system. Make a folder for estate planning on your computer and move all your files in the same folder. Label it clearly so it can be found.
Your kids may love hide and seek now, but don’t make them play it for your files when you pass away.
15-Safeguard your data by creating a backup on an external hard drive.
This is easy to do late at night when you finally have a chance to breathe. Purchase an external hard drive or a backup cloud service and back your entire computer up. Some of the cloud-based services even have automated backups.
These are the slow cookers of the backup industry – you will love them once you start using them!
16-Write down specific instructions about your funeral or memorial arrangements.
Do you want bright colors, Pearl Jam, or Michael Jackson to play in your memory? No? Well it’s time to write it down now, because for just this once the kids will actually listen to what you tell them. Be specific about the type of music, flowers, arrangements you want.
Haven’t thought about it? Consider writing down what you DON’T want.
Put it in that estate planning file you’ve just set up – that way your estate planning attorney and your children will know where to look for it!
It seems like just one more thing to add to your list, but starting an estate planning journey is so easy once the steps are broken down, even the busiest of us can get organized. It’s very possible you’ve even completed some of these steps already, and remember, you don’t have to do it all at once. Many of these steps are easy to do when you have 15 or 20 minutes after dinner or after the kids go to bed. Go through each step, one by one, and contact your estate planning attorney once you’ve crossed everything off of your list – you’ll be all set!