So you have gone through all of the work to get your estate planning documents finalized, you have had your signing meeting with your attorney, and now it is time to celebrate that you are done, right? In most cases, the answer is not quite yet. There are few items that are often overlooked that are essential to truly finishing your estate plan. I have listed two of the most important items below:
- Check Your Beneficiary Designations – Immediately after you finalize your estate planning documents, you should contact your financial advisor, retirement account administrator, insurance agent, bank, and anyone else that holds your financial assets. The reason? Making sure that these financial assets have up-to-date (and properly filled out) beneficiary designations. These forms are crucial, as they will ensure that upon your death, your financial assets transfer directly to your beneficiaries. Particularly if you have a Trust, properly funding the Trust with your financial assets is important to successfully carrying out any estate tax deferral or minimization components of your estate plan. Your attorney can walk you through the necessary steps to accomplish this final part of the process.
- Make Sure Your Personal Property List Is Current – A lot of clients are quick to ignore their miscellaneous personal property (such as furniture, household effects, family keepsakes, etc.) because they do not necessarily think of these items as having significant monetary value. However, we have often seen that, particularly in contentious families, these items hold significant value to certain family members, and can become the source of conflict. Accordingly, I advise clients to expressly address these items in their Wills and Trusts, typically using one of the following approaches: (i) designating the beneficiary of these items directly in the Will or Trust, or (ii) designating the beneficiary of these items in a separate list referenced by the Will or Trust. I especially like the second approach, as it is more flexible and cost-efficient since the client can change the list over time without having to arrange for the attorney to formally update the estate plan.
Thinking through these items will ultimately result in getting the most benefit and value out of your estate plan.