Our Simple 9-Step Estate Planning Checklist from The Postage for 2021
No matter your age, income, or status in life, you need a plan of action if something happens to you. This is the purpose of an estate plan. With this estate planning checklist from The Postage, you can better prepare for the future and take charge of the present by gathering necessary information now rather than later.
How to Prepare the Essential Information, Permissions, and Documents of Estate Planning
Let’s not sugarcoat things: effective estate planning involves thinking about the future in ways that might be uncomfortable. You must collect important paperwork, make some essential choices, and plan for the details you might not want to think about, like the possibility of passing away unexpectedly. If you want to know how to begin planning your estate, we recommend following these nine steps.
- Plan your last will and testament
- Plan your living will
- Plan your digital estate
- Choose who’s in charge
- Write your end-of-life plan
- Plan your funeral
- Write personal messages
- Collect your paperwork
- Communicate your plans
With this checklist for estate planning, you will have a clear plan of action that puts you in charge of your life.
1. Plan Your Last Will and Testament
When most people think of a last will and testament, they imagine formal proceedings in a lawyer’s office where family members are read aloud their inheritances from their late grandmother who was rich in pearls, jewels, and property. That’s just not the case for most people. Everyone needs to create a will so your loved ones know what to do with your possessions.
At a minimum, you must account for the following:
- Physical Assets – real estate, bank accounts, vehicles, valuables, etc.
- Financial Assets – stocks, retirement accounts, investments, etc.
- Debts – what you owe against your assets
- Beneficiaries – the people who receive what you leave behind
- Trusts – the arrangements for how you will distribute what you leave behind
- Executor – the person in charge of the distribution
Instead of leaving behind an unorganized collection of materials, your goal should be to make sense of your life on your terms. If you haven’t created a will yet, The Postage is an excellent way to create an attorney-approved will fast and affordably.
2. Plan Your Advanced Directive
While your last will and testament dictate what happens after you die, an advanced directive (also called a living will) details what you want to happen when you’re still alive but unable to make decisions for yourself. Such items should include:
- Who you want to make medical decisions if you can’t communicate
- What you value and want to be done
- For example: If you have a medical event that requires life support or other intervention, do you want to receive CPR or be on a ventilator?
- If you develop a serious illness or life-threatening condition, you should speak with your primary healthcare provider(s) about:
- DNR – “do not resuscitate” orders that give direction to any emergency healthcare providers
- POLST – “physician orders for life-sustaining treatment” detail specific treatments to all medical providers
- Documents – keep these in a single location so your representative can find them
In short, the advanced directive tells people what you want to happen if you can’t tell them yourself.
3. Plan Your Digital Estate
While not everyone communicates with people on social media, nearly everyone has a digital presence of some sort, such as an email account. You need to create very specific steps and protocols for what should happen to your online life after you die, especially regarding items such as:
- Social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
- Online groups
- Streaming platforms (Netflix, Hulu, etc.)
- Ecommerce sites
- Assorted logins and passwords
It’s essential that you account for your digital activity so your loved ones don’t have to repeatedly prove your passing to companies in hopes of gaining control over your accounts.
4. Choose Who’s in Charge
As a follow-up to the living will you created earlier, you must also decide the people who will help you if you become incapacitated. Such people include:
- Durable power of attorney – the person who controls your finances, pays your bills, and conducts the business of everyday life
- Medical care directive – the person who makes the healthcare decisions
- Guardians – the person or people who will care for your minor child(ren), pets, and more
Depending upon your situation, you can choose a single person for all of these roles, but we do recommend spreading the responsibility so that one person doesn’t bear all the stress.
5. Write Your End-of-Life Plan
A crucial part of any estate planning checklist, you should also determine what you want to happen after you pass away.
- Who’s in charge – a person who can handle the details
- Obituary – reflections on your life and whether you want them shared
- Organ donation
- Bodily remains – burial, cremation, or green
- Funeral arrangements – how you want people to commemorate your life
We encourage you to make these plans so your loved ones don’t have to, so they can simply focus on mourning your loss.
6. Plan Your Funeral
It’s not morbid to make these plans yourself. Think of it as one last event on your terms, so you get to decide what happens at your funeral.
- The type of event – church, secular, memorial, wake, celebration
- The people – attendees, speakers, pallbearers, etc.
- The details – music, videos, food, decor, readings
Just make sure you’re also respectful to the needs of your friends and family, as they’re the ones grieving your passing.
7. Write Personal Messages
One of the most cathartic exercises you can perform is creating communication for your loved ones that they receive from you after you pass away. Doing so gives you the opportunity to impart wisdom, instruction, and kind words at crucial times even though you aren’t present. Frequent options include:
- Ethical will – an essay detailing your beliefs, practices, and reflections upon your life in the world
- Letters – missives sent to specific people, often to close old wounds or to give final goodbyes
- Notes – time-sensitive communication your loved ones receive at certain special events in the future
Much like planning your own funeral, this exercise isn’t morbid. It’s the opportunity to ensure that nothing is ever left unsaid.
8. Collect Your Paperwork
At this juncture, we’ve talked about several separate bits of information. Now it’s time to store your documents in a single location. Not only does this help you in the present in times of an emergency, but it ensures that your loved ones and representatives can find everything when the time arrives. You’ll need all of the following:
- Everything listed above – last will and testament, living will, DNR, POLST, end-of-life plan, etc.
- Birth/Adoption certificate
- Social Security cards
- Medical records
- Marriage license
- Legal documents
Feel free to collect anything else you might deem relevant. This checklist for your estate plans focuses on the most essential elements.
9. Communicate Your Plans
Now that you’ve created and collected all of your paperwork and plans, it’s time you talked about them to people you trust:
- Legal professionals – ensures everything is official since some documents need to be approved and notarized
- Financial professionals – confirms your finances are secure, stable, and accurate
- Trusted confidants – the family and friends who will take care of everything when you pass away
You could have the most air-tight collection of documents possible, but if no one knows about them or where to find them, it will all be for naught.
Secure Storage for Your Estate Planning Documents
With The Postage, following this estate planning checklist has never been more effective or efficient. Our online platform is both simple to navigate and features bank-quality security measures. You can create your will, upload all of your information and documents, organize them swiftly, and assign viewing permissions to the delegates you choose. The power to proactively plan for the future in the present is in your hands.