Estate planning is a valuable and practical way to make sure your family stays secure and your assets get distributed according to your wishes, no matter what happens to you. However, many people feel intimidated by the idea of planning their estate.

To help with the initial anxiety of estate planning, we’ll provide an overview of estate planning basics and then give you a quick checklist you can use to get started.

What Is My Estate?

Your estate is everything you own that has value, including land, real estate, financial securities, cash, possessions, and other assets that you own or have a controlling interest in. Your estate plan can even cover items that have mostly sentimental value: family heirlooms, pictures, letters, and handmade gifts.

Everyone has an estate, whether it’s large or small. And no matter what your estate looks like, you and your family can benefit from estate planning. Without an estate plan, you won’t be able to ensure that your assets transfer to your loved ones according to your wishes. If you die without a will in Michigan, your assets will go to your closest relatives through a predetermined process that’s decided by our state’s intestate laws. This process won’t account for your wishes at all — it will simply find the person who is first in order of succession and distribute your assets to them.

Why Use an Estate Planning Checklist?

You’re probably not familiar with estate planning, and that’s not unusual. Most people don’t think about estate planning as early as they should. Maybe it’s because we don’t like to think about mortality, or maybe it’s because most of us find legal matters intimidating. Some people also believe estate planning will cost more than they can afford, which isn’t true. Regardless of the reason, though, putting off making an estate plan is never a good idea.

Even if you’re young and healthy, nothing in life is certain. And no matter how small your estate is, it most likely contains items that have value for your loved ones. Creating an estate plan now can give you peace of mind and make sure your family members don’t have to face uncertainty and conflict over your estate after you pass away.

RELATED: How Do I Explain My Estate Plan to My Loved Ones?

What Should Be on My Estate Planning Checklist?

Your checklist should help you organize, think about your needs, plan for managing your estate, put your plan into action, and anticipate changes. Here are five steps you can take to get you there, with each step broken into smaller steps for simplicity.

1. Gather your documents and create a paper trail

  • Collect recent statements from your bank, retirement accounts, and other financial products like stocks, bonds, or mutual funds.
  • Make a list of your insurance policies, paying attention to their cash values and death benefits.
  • List the value of your home as well as any real estate and valuable property you may own, including cars, boats, art, jewelry, and other physical assets.
  • Write down locations of safe deposit boxes, safes, and other collections of valuables.
  • Document any other assets and accounts, include health savings accounts and your business, if you own one.
  • Also, remember to list any existing mortgages, lines of credit, and other debts.

2. Consider your family’s unique needs

  • Do you have minor children? You’ll need to name a guardian for them.
  • What resources are needed for your children’s care and education?
  • Is your mortgage payment funded by two incomes? If so, how will the mortgage get paid if your income is gone?
  • Have you planned to pay for college for your children?
  • Do you have enough life insurance?

3. Choose your beneficiaries and personal representative

  • Decide who should inherit your assets based on their needs and your wishes.
  • Remember not to leave beneficiary sections blank. In that case, assets may be subject to Michigan intestate succession laws.
  • Name contingent beneficiaries. That way, if your primary beneficiary dies before you, your estate plan will still work as you intend.
  • Think about who you want in charge of distributing your assets (your personal representative) along with who should manage your affairs and make healthcare decisions if you become unable to do so.

4. Get help from an estate planning expert

  • There are other considerations regarding estate planning, including tax laws and setting up trusts, which can be tricky to navigate. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you create a will and provide guidance on the best ways to set up your estate.
  • Services that an estate planning lawyer can provide include drafting your will, creating a trust, and drawing up both medical and financial powers of attorney.

5. Review and update your plan every so often

  • Ensure that your beneficiary designations are kept up to date so they accurately reflect your wishes.
  • If you’ve experienced significant life changes and wish to amend your will, the lawyer who set up your estate plan can update your plan so it reflects those changes.

Contact Kari Santana for Help Planning Your Estate in West Michigan

Whether you’re established and have a large, complex estate or you’re young and just getting started, the experienced estate planning team at the Law Office of Kari Santana can help you get ready for the future with our affordable estate planning services. We understand that your estate planning needs are as unique as you are, and we’ll address them with creative, custom-tailored solutions that can give you confidence and peace of mind.

To get started today with a free initial consultation, call us at (616) 717-5759 or fill out our quick and easy consultation form below.

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.