6 Things to Cross Off Your Estate Planning Checklist Before It’s Too Late

estate planning checklist

Estate planning is something you can keep putting off for another day. Eventually, it catches up to you. Sure, no one wants to dwell on the inevitability of death or think about what happens when we’re no longer around.

But the harsh reality is that if you don’t take control of the estate planning process now, it can have irreversible consequences for your family. What’s meant to be your legacy could instead leave behind a mess of expensive probate court battles, unintended beneficiaries, and assets eroded by taxes. Your final wishes mean nothing if you don’t put them into legally binding terms.

At Vollrath Law, we’ve helped numerous clients cross the estate planning finish line and confidently secure their legacies. So, here are six must-do tasks to check off before it’s too late.

#1 Assemble Your Estate Planning Team

Like any major endeavor, you’ll need a team of trusted advisors and representatives to help bring your estate plan to life according to your vision. Here are the key players:

Consult an Estate Planning Attorney

Let’s start with the quarterback of your estate squad – an experienced estate planning attorney. In Florida, the laws governing wills, trusts, asset distribution, and wealth transfer get incredibly nuanced and complex. Relying on do-it-yourself templates or going it alone is just asking for costly trouble.

Experienced estate attorneys like our team at Vollrath Law ensure every base is covered and your documents are solid. From tax optimization strategies to avoiding probate headaches, their expertise is invaluable.

Designate Trusted Representatives

With your attorney’s guidance, you’ll also designate key representatives to uphold your wishes if you become incapacitated or pass away, including:

  • Personal Representative – The person you appoint to administer and distribute your estate according to your will.
  • Power of Attorney – Grants legal authority to someone you trust to make financial decisions on your behalf.
  • Healthcare Surrogate – Allows a designated person to make medical decisions if you cannot make them yourself.

Choose these roles very carefully, as you’re entrusting them with immense responsibility over your affairs. We often suggest naming backup representatives as well.

#2 Review and Update Beneficiary Designations

When was the last time you checked who you’ve named as beneficiaries on all your retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and other financial vehicles? If it’s been a while, chances are some of those designations are woefully outdated.

Your beneficiary designations take total precedence over what your will states. So if you have had a change in your intended beneficiaries, or you’ve had children since setting up those old 401(k)s, your assets could easily end up in unintended hands.

Do a comprehensive audit of all your accounts, policies, and designations. Update any listings that no longer align with your current wishes for how you want your wealth distributed after you’re gone.

#3 Create or Update Your Will and Trust Documents

These are the foundational legal documents that codify your plans and directives. If you don’t have them in place, you’re leaving your loved ones at the mercy of Florida’s intestate succession laws.

Last Will and Testament

This legally-binding document designates how you want your assets and personal property distributed, names guardians for minor children, provides funeral instructions, and can even establish trusts.

Revocable Living Trust

A living trust allows you to seamlessly transfer assets into a trust during your lifetime to potentially avoid probate court entirely. This can save your family considerable costs, headaches, and delays in distributing inheritances.

Provisions for Minor Children

If you have kids under 18, your will should absolutely name long-term guardians to care for them after you’re gone. But we also generally recommend establishing a separate children’s trust to govern how their financial inheritance is managed until they reach adulthood.

#4 Organize Your Assets and Liabilities

To ensure your wishes are crystal clear to your representatives, take stock of every asset you own and the debt you owe.

Make a detailed, organized list, including:

  • Real estate holdings
  • Vehicles
  • Financial accounts and investments
  • Valuable personal possessions
  • Digital assets like cryptocurrency
  • Business interests or intellectual property
  • Insurance policies
  • Mortgages and lines of credit

You’ll designate each asset in your will and trust exactly how you want it handled, sold off, or distributed to heirs. This leaves no room for ambiguity or competing claims.

#5 Plan for Incapacity and End-of-Life Decisions

Nobody likes to ponder worst-case scenarios like becoming mentally incapacitated or terminally ill. But by proactively planning for those possibilities, you regain control over your future care.

Living Will and Designation of Healthcare Surrogate

These vital documents allows you to spell out in legally binding terms the types of life-prolonging medical treatments you want (or don’t want) in cases of incurable illness or permanent unconsciousness. They name your healthcare surrogate and provide clear directives, so your family never agonizes over costly what-if scenarios.

#6 Review and Update Regularly

Even the most comprehensive estate plan is worthless if you let it collect dust for decades while your life circumstances drastically evolve.

We recommend reviewing and potentially updating your estate plan every 3-5 years. Laws change, your assets can shift in value, and your personal goals may pivot over time.

Additionally, any major life event like marriage, divorce, birth of a child, receiving an inheritance, or acquiring a new high-value asset should automatically trigger a review process. You want your plan to accurately reflect your current reality.

At Vollrath Law, we offer complimentary estate plan review meetings to all our past clients so they stay ahead of the curve. After investing so much thought into their Plan A, we ensure they never neglect to have an updated Plan B.

Check All The Boxes for Your Family’s Peace of Mind

Few people regret procrastinating on estate planning until it’s far too late. By then, their chance to secure their legacy and choreograph their final affairs on their own terms is gone forever.

Don’t let that become your story. By working through this definitive checklist alongside our experienced estate attorneys at Vollrath Law, you can cross that monumental life task.

Together, we’ll ensure you have a cohesive estate plan that protects your assets, provides for your loved ones, respects your wishes, and brings you greater peace of mind today. After all, isn’t that what you’ve worked towards your whole life?

Take that first step by scheduling an estate plan consultation with our firm. Simply call or schedule a consultation online. Sometimes, the biggest weight is lifted by finally checking that box.

Author Bio

Stephanie Vollrath is an Owner and Partner of Vollrath Law, a Florida estate planning law firm she founded in 2013. With more than seven years of experience in investments and financial advising and 13 years practicing law in Florida, she represented clients in a wide range of estate planning cases. Her practice areas include wills, trusts, guardianship, probate, and other estate planning matters.

Stephanie received her Juris Doctor from the Barry University Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law and is a member of the Florida Bar and the Seminole County Bar Association.

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