We’ve pretty much all heard about “bucket lists,” but that term can take on a little bit of a different meaning when you’re a Sacramento County estate planning lawyer. We deal with the reality every day that life is fleeting, and it’s our goal to help clients to maximize what they are able to leave behind. For that reason, here are some items that we think everyone should consider putting on their “estate planning bucket list.”
- Inventory – Creating an inventory of everything you own, especially anything worth more than $500, is a great way to have a thorough accounting of just what it is that you will leave behind when you pass away. In addition to the physical items that you possess, you’ll also want to include assets such as retirement accounts, bank accounts, stocks, insurance policies, real estate, timeshares, etc.
- Debts – We live in a time where debt is more common than not, and your estate planning lawyer will encourage you to create a separate list of what you (and your estate) owe. This list should include mortgages (including reverse mortgages) and home equity lines of credit (HELOCs), credit card accounts, auto loans and everything else you can think of. This is the perfect time to order a free credit report to see what items are listed on it. The only source for the truly free credit report is www.annualcreditreport.com.
- Memberships – Another list that you should create would include all of the organizations to which you are a member. Everything from AAA to the alumni association at your alma mater would belong on this list. If you’re a supporter of one or more charities, you should also have them on your membership list.
- Review Your Accounts – Now that you have a list of your assets, it will be easier to locate any accounts that include beneficiary designations. Retirement accounts and bank accounts are just two of these. Make sure that the beneficiary you have listed is still correct, because when you pass away, despite what is written in your will, this designation is that one that will be used. It’s not all that unusual for a Sacramento County estate planning attorney’s client to discover they still have an ex-spouse listed as a beneficiary on an account! You may find that some of these accounts have an option to make them “transferrable on death,” which means that they can be passed on without going through the probate process, but only if you are using this feature, and only if it coordinates with the rest of your estate plan.
- Review Your Insurance Policies – Just like with your accounts above, your insurance policies will have one or more beneficiaries listed. You’ll want to make sure that these are up-to-date, and you may also want to review your coverage with your insurance provider to make sure that it is at the appropriate level for your current stage of life.
- Choose Your Administrator – It’s up to you to determine who you want to administrate your estate for you. This person will distribute your assets and take on other responsibilities for fulfilling the legal obligations of an estate. Your Sacramento County estate planning lawyer can offer advice on how to choose the right person for the job, whether it’s a friend, a family member, or a professional administrator.
- Write Your Will – Without your legal, written instructions to follow, the courts will distribute your estate as they see fit. Avoid this and have a say in what becomes of your assets by working with an experienced estate planning lawyer to create a legal will. During this time, you and your attorney may determine that you also want to create one or more trusts in order to ensure your estate is used to your specifications and/or to minimize the taxes that will be owed upon your death, or provide protection for those you leave behind.
- Get the Information to the Right People – Make sure, for example, that your administrator has a signed, witnessed, copy of your will, along with the lists you have created. This will make their job much easier and will streamline the process later. You’ll also want to make sure that your estate planning lawyer files any appropriate paperwork in the Sacramento courts. Finally, it’s a good idea to keep extra copies of these documents in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box.
Taking the time now to mark these things off your estate planning bucket list means that you can save a lot of hassle and even money for those you leave behind.