The estate planning checklist is what we can use when we want to start thinking about what we need to do in order to organize our affairs. Because we all know the cold truth. None of us are getting out of here alive.
For many of us, we have no idea where to begin in terms of organizing our affairs. Where do we start when we want to make sure everything is arranged when we, you know, "kick the bucket" so to speak. This is where an estate planning checklist comes in handy. Like this one:
o Choose an executor for your will
o Ask or advise the executor that you are naming them as an executor - always great to let them know. Sheesh. Seriously, like this should be one of the first things on your estate planning checklist.
o Choose beneficiaries for your will. Who gets what and how much when you die?
o If you have minor children, choose a guardian for your children
o Figure out how the guardian will access funds that will financially support your children
o Get your will completed
o Make a list of how you want your personal effects distributed and provide it to your executor
o Tell your executor and trustee where they can find the original of your will
o Organize life and disability insurance
o Name beneficiaries in your life and disability insurance policies
o Look at all your stocks and other investments and name beneficiaries
o Plan your funeral? (My Mom did this)
o Prepay your funeral (My Mom did this too)
o Give away certain gifts during your lifetime? (My Mom did this too)
o Transfer property to joint ownership?
o Prepare an enduring power of attorney
o Prepare a living will or representation agreement
o Prepare a trust?
Your lawyer can and will help you determine what parts of this estate planning checklist you will need and what you should be doing based upon the particular needs of you and you and your family.
In British Columbia estate planning and distribution is governed by the Wills, Estate, and Succession Act. Your lawyer will know all about this handy and relatively new piece of legislation.
The great thing is that when we organize our affairs, it gives ourselves and those we love piece of mind. For example, we have a friend who loves her dogs way more, and we mean way more than humans. Her closest soul mate ever had four paws and occasionally barked at people. This friend has no kids, and could care less about procuring a husband. What she cares about most are her dogs, of which she has at least two or three at any given moment. For that reason when she started going through her estate planning checklist and did her will, she has made a very specific clause in her will that her dogs will be cared for, walked, and loved by a friend upon her death. Now that is organized!
Choose an executor for your will:
This can be a very big decision. Your executor is the person who will be in charge of organizing your affairs and distributing your estate after you die. This is someone you trust. It is also best if they live in the same province or city as you. This is for their sake because it is way easier to wind up someone's estate when we live in the same city as they do.
Ask or advise the executor that you are naming them as an executor:
When you give someone this job it is a significant responsibility. It can also be an honour. Best thing to do is let them know they have been chosen. Also let them know about executor's fees and whether or not you are willing to pay them a small percentage from your estate in order to compensate your executor for the work that will have to be done.
Choose beneficiaries for your will:
This is who you want to benefit from your estate. No estate planning checklist is complete without this obvious part. Your beneficiaries are who will get your money, assuming you have some when you die. You may want to get legal advice if you want to leave a family member out of your will. Sometimes leaving someone out of our will is not so straight forward. You don't want to leave a big legal mess for your beneficiaries (and non-beneficiaries) to have to sort out.
If you have minor children, choose a guardian for your children:
This is a huge decision. You will also want to ask the potential guardians if they are agreeable. Being a guardian is a huge honour and it is a massive responsibility should taking on that role be necessary (ie. You die and leave your kids for your proposed guardians to care for in your absence).
Figure out how the guardian will access funds that will financially support your children:
If you die and you leave your children to someone else to raise, you will want to make sure they have the funds from your estate available to care for and educate your kids.
Get your will completed:
Get your will done and done properly with the help of a lawyer. There are stringent rules around what makes a will valid.
Although there are lots of will kits on the internet, we cannot emphasize enough how important it is to use a professional in this part of your estate planning checklist process.
Making a will is important business. There is almost nothing worse for a proposed beneficiary than to finding out the will is invalid.
Make a list of how you want your personal effects distributed and provide it to your executor:
Who do you want that special painting or your engagement ring to go to? Make a list to keep it easy and less stressful for those you love.
Tell your executor and trustee where they can find the original of your will:
Believe it or not, your executor will not necessarily know where to look in order to find your will. They also need to know that the will they locate is the last one you wrote (in case you have an old will lying around somewhere). Keep them up to date.
Organize life and disability insurance
If you have people relying on you financially (or people that rely on your income, that is) you may want to ensure that your income is replaced in the event you are no longer able to produce it.
Name beneficiaries in your life and disability insurance policies
Well this one is kind of obvious.
Look at all your stocks and other investments and name beneficiaries
This one is obvious too.
Plan your funeral? (My Mom did this)
And wow did this ever help in terms of the process. It saved us a lot of grief. Literally.
Prepay your funeral (My Mom did this too)
When it was time for my Mom's funeral it was all planned and paid for. All we had left to do was celebrate her life and memory and reminisce about how much we loved her and would miss her. Believe it or not, we had fun at my Mom's funeral. She would have liked it that way.
Give away certain gifts during your lifetime?
Sometimes you want to pass on certain gifts during your lifetime so that you can see the joy your loved one will experience when you give them that gift.
Transfer property to joint ownership?
When you transfer property to joint ownership it can pass automatically upon your death to your loved one. You can also avoid probate fees and tax. Not everyone does this but it is an important think to consider when reviewing your estate planning checklist. Lots of people do this with their family residence.
Prepare an enduring power of attorney
This will allow someone you trust to sign legal documents on your behalf when you are unable to do so due to illness, unavailability, or disability.
Prepare a living will or representation agreement:
A living will allows you to designate someone who will make health care and personal care decisions for you when you are not able to do so.
A living will can also allow you to make health care decisions for yourself while you are still able to do so.
Prepare a trust?
A trust agreement is a document that spells out the rules that you want followed for property held in trust for your beneficiaries. It is when one property is held for the benefit of another.
This is written by Val Hemminger, the long suffering law boss of Hemminger Law Group Westshore who has finally sorted her estate planning checklist