Where to Start Estate Planning

elderly person signing a document

You’ve decided it’s time to create an estate plan, but you aren’t sure where to start. You aren’t alone. Thinking about our mortality is always challenging, but considering how you’d like to distribute your assets will help you protect yourself and your loved ones. Acknowledging that you’ll begin getting your affairs in order is an important first step. Here are some of the steps you can take to start the estate planning journey.

Decide How You’d Like Your Assets To Be Distributed 

Choosing the beneficiaries of your assets can be one of the most challenging steps in starting estate planning. There are many different ways to distribute your assets when you die. You could give your assets to several different people. You could decide to give your assets to one beneficiary, such as your surviving spouse. Consider who you’d like to appoint as alternate beneficiaries if your first choice has passed away by the time of your death. 

If you have a beneficiary or beneficiary in mind but can’t decide on how to divide and distribute your assets, that’s okay. Create a list of the people you’d like to be your beneficiaries. When you meet with an estate planning attorney, your attorney can provide you with guidance and ideas about your options. For example, perhaps you’re concerned about one of your children making wise choices with his or her inheritance. In that case, your attorney can help you consider more advanced directions within your will or the creation of a trust for the assets.

Perhaps you are single and unsure of who you’d like to receive your assets. Consider your favorite charities and organizations, your friends, and other people who’ve been impactful in your life. You may decide to create a scholarship fund, a charitable trust, or give your assets to your favorite non-profit organization. 

Assess Your Assets

Once you have a general idea of who you’d like to receive your assets from, it’s time to begin gathering your financial documents. Create a list of all of your assets. Write down how they are owned and to whom you’d like them to go someday. When you begin cataloging your assets, continue thinking about how you’d like to distribute each of your assets. Sometimes assessing the nature of your assets can help people firm up their goals for those assets after they pass away.

Gather Important Documents

Getting organized is a crucial step when you start estate planning. Gathering important documents and information will help your attorney create your estate plan. It will also help your estate executor after you pass away. We’ve seen many surviving family members who have difficulty locating important and necessary documents after their loved one passes away.

It’s wise to obtain a copy of your real estate needs. Your attorney will need to know how your title is currently held to transfer real property into a trust, should you use a trust-based estate plan. Provide your attorney with a copy of the entire deed as filed with your county recorder. We also recommend bringing the first page of your most recent bank account statement. If you have investments, bring the most recent monthly statement for those accounts, including:

  • Checking account
  • Savings account
  • Money market
  • Brokerage
  • Pension
  • IRS

If you own a business or interest in a partnership, we recommend bringing a copy of your business agreements. You should also bring certificates of any trademark, patent, and copyright registration certificates and stock certificates. If you have a life insurance policy, gather present copies of the insurance binders so the value of the insurance policy so your attorney can consider it during the drafting of your estate plan. 

Consider Your Healthcare Priorities

An essential part of estate planning involves appointing a healthcare agent and knowing your healthcare wishes if you are incapacitated. Considering what types of treatments you would or would not like in a life-threatening situation will help you finalize your advanced healthcare directive. You should also consider who you’d like to be your healthcare agent.

Meet With a Financial Expert

For those with significant or complex assets, meeting with a financial professional can help you understand your financial situation. Ensuring we have enough resources to enjoy retirement is an important estate planning goal for many of us. 

A financial expert can help you estimate the amount of assets you’ll need to maintain the lifestyle you’d like to maintain in retirement. An important goal of estate planning is ensuring you are financially provided for during your lifetime and distributing your assets after you pass away. Your financial goals will guide your estate plan. 

Create a List of Questions to Discuss With Your Attorney

Many people are unfamiliar with the estate planning process, especially if they’ve never served as an estate executor. You probably have important questions regarding your estate plan. Remembering questions to ask your estate planning attorney can be difficult at the moment. Writing your questions down ahead of time can help you ensure your questions get answered. Free free to ask about any of the following matters:

  • Your attorneys’ experience and background in estate planning
  • How your legal fees will be calculated
  • How your estate plan will work
  • Your attorney’s work process and communication style
  • The tax ramifications of your estate planning wishes
  • Whether there are other options for meeting your goals that you haven’t discussed

Understanding the legal language can be difficult, so if you have questions about your estate planning documents, ask your attorney. Reviewing your estate planning documents with your attorney can ensure that your wishes are met and that you understand what the documents do.

Reach Out to an Estate Planning Attorney in Southeastern Massachusetts

The estate planning process can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be, with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney. At Surprenant & Beneski, PC, estate planning is a process that should be personalized for each person’s unique needs and circumstances. We will walk with you every step, patiently answering questions and ensuring that your estate plan is tailored to your individual situation. Contact Surprenant & Beneski, PC today to schedule your free initial consultation.