Is it Time for Your Estate Plan Check up

It is always smart to review your estate plan periodically to ensure that it will work as you intend when you need it. As we hunker down during the COVID-19 crisis, now is a good time for such a review.

Here are six tips to make sure your estate plan is in good health:


At a minimum, every adult should have a Last Will and Testament, Advanced Directive, Health Care Proxy, Durable Power of Attorney and HIPAA Authorization. Parents of minor children should be certain their Wills include guardianship provisions and should also consider signing a document to grant a non-guardian temporary authority to make healthcare decisions for minor children if the need arises. Preparing these foundational documents now grants you and your loved ones’ peace of mind in the event the unthinkable happens.


For clients with existing estate plans, now is a great time to review your plan and make sure it reflects your wishes. If changes do need to be made, at Surprenant & Beneski estate planning documents can be safely executed, witnessed and notarized while practicing social distancing. As of April 21, 2020, we are waiting for legislation to be passed that will allow for virtual notarization in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts during the Covid-19 Crisis.


Make sure your beneficiary designations on retirement, brokerage and life insurance accounts are up to date. If you have a trust, is it properly funded?  If you have a trust, do you know if it is properly funded? Be sure to work with your attorney and financial advisor to confirm your assets are properly titled in your trust and are up to date.  If you don’t have a trust, understand what your Will controls and what it doesn’t.  Acknowledge that your estate plan may require a probate proceeding. 


In the wake of the pandemic, the New York Times reported that many Americans are using online legal tools to draft estate planning documents. If you have used such a tool to draft your estate planning documents or are considering such a tool, think twice. It is not uncommon for documents drafted using online tools to fail to meet clients’ needs and fail to satisfy statutory requirements for validity. If you have used an online drafting tool, reach out to your attorney for a quick document review that could save you a considerable headache down the road.  At Surprenant & Beneski we do not execute cookie-cutter plans.  Instead, we help you identify your goals and craft a unique plan to meet your unique goals and your family situation.  


Make sure key people (i.e. your next of kin and nominated agents and personal representative/trustee) know you have an estate plan in place and know where such documents are stored, and how to access them quickly. Do not store Power of Attorney documents in a safe deposit box and utilize your attorney’s secure client vault. Particularly with any health care related documents, it may be prudent to provide your key people with copies of these documents so they can work efficiently when something happens.  (e.g., copies to your doctors, health care agents).  A very important step to consider is having meaningful conversations with everyone so they know your wishes, they agree to act in the assigned role and are in a position to advocate for you.  These types of conversations will prove valuable in that everyone will be on the same page with supporting your wishes.


Use the checklist below to create a comprehensive list of important information, accounts and passwords. Make sure key people know where to find the list as well as the passcode to any digital password manager you use.

If your Will or Trust does not contain a provision relating to digital assets, talk to your family members about expectations regarding the use of your social media accounts after your death. Some social media platforms such as Facebook allow users to designate a “legacy contact” who can make decisions about your account after your death.



The first step in implementing your estate planning is to prepare lists of personal and financial information.  These should include lists of assets, estate planning documents, personal information, important people and personal directives.  Once gathered and organized, keep the information up-to-date and stored in a safe place.  Here is a closer look at what information you should include on each list:


  • The name and address of all financial institutions with which you have bank accounts, certificates of deposit, brokerage accounts, money market accounts or other types of financial accounts, each account number, and the name(s) that each account is held in. The access codes to computer programs such as Quicken.
  • The name, phone number and address of each institution administering any retirement benefits (IRA, pension plan, profit sharing plan, Keogh benefits), the account number for each account, the beneficiaries of each account or plan, and the location of the documents reflecting the plans or benefits.
  • The name, phone number and address of each insurance company that has issued you a policy (life, accidental death, disability, accidental dismemberment, auto, homeowner’s policies), the policy number with respect to each policy, the face amount of each policy or the policy limits (if appropriate), the type of policy (for example, a term life insurance policy), the owner of the policy, the beneficiaries of the policy (if appropriate), and the location of the policies.
  • The location of any real estate you own, how the title is held for each property, when and how each property was acquired (by gift, inheritance or purchase), and where the documents relating to each property are located.
  • The make, model number and license number of each vehicle you own (including boats and other recreational vehicles), how each vehicle is titled, and where the documents relating to each vehicle are located.
  • A description of each item or collection of personal property of significant value (antiques, jewelry, coins, stamps, art), the appraised value of each, and the location of each.
  • List of your digital assets, including everything from hardware to social media accounts to online banking accounts to home utilities you manage online.  How should each of these assets be handled?  Depending on the nature of the property, this may vary.  Write down whether it should be archived and saved, deleted or erased or transferred to family members. 
  • A description of each stock or other business interest you own and the location of the documents relating to each interest (including stock certificates, buy-sell agreements, partnership agreements, operating agreements or real estate ownership agreements).
  • The name of any trust not created by you of which you are a beneficiary and the name and address of the trustee of each trust.


  • The date and location of your most recent Will and any codicils.
  • The date and location of the document and beneficiaries of any trusts you have created.
  • The date and location of any premarital agreement, marital property agreement or unilateral statement you have signed.
  • The date and location of any custodial account you have created for your children or grandchildren.
  • The date and location of any durable power of attorney or health care proxy, DNRs, MOLST forms, living will or other health care directive you may have signed.


  • The date you established domicile in your current residence.
  • The date of any marriage.
  • The names, dates of birth, social security numbers and addresses of your children.
  • The location of federal and state income and gift tax returns that you have filed.
  • The location of any safe deposit boxes and who, if anyone, has a key.


  • The beneficiaries of your estate.
  • Your advisors, including attorneys, accountants, insurance agents, bankers, investment advisors and doctors.
  • The executor or personal representative designated under your will, the designated trustee of any trusts established under your will, the current trustee of any other trusts you have created, and the successor trustees of any other trusts of which you are serving as trustee.


  • A copy of any documents you have signed agreeing to the donation of your organs or body for medical use or research. You also should complete and carry an organ donation card.
  • Any specific wishes you may have related to funeral or burial arrangements and the location of any cemetery deeds or prepaid funeral expense agreements.
  • The location of any last letter to your family or friends.


Now that you have gathered the above information, who are the appropriate persons who should receive a copy or at least the location of where the above information is stored?

  • First, a family member or close friend should be given a copy of the list of any personal directives that you may have.  In most cases, if this information appears in your will, it will be read too late to carry out your wishes.
  • Second, upon your disability, certain people should be informed of your affairs to ensure the efficient administration of your estate.  If you have signed a durable power of attorney for financial or property purposes, both your agent and the successor agent named in the document should be given a copy of it for safekeeping.  In addition, each person should be informed of the location of your lists of personal and financial information.  Also, the successor trustee of any living trust you have created should be informed of the location of these lists.
  • Third, upon your disability, you may be unable to inform your health care professionals of your health care decisions.  Therefore, if you have signed a health care proxy, a declaration to physicians, a living will or other health care directive, a copy of the document should be given to your primary physician, other regular health care professionals, any retirement facility within which you reside, and any health care agent or alternate health care agent named in the document.  In addition, you should notify your immediate family that such a document has been signed and tell them where it is located.
  • Lastly, you should inform your family and the designated personal representative of your estate where your lists and, in particular, your most recent will and codicils are located.