The Ultimate Gift to Leave Your Heirs: Estate Planning

Did you know that 60% of adult Americans don’t have a will? Dying without a will can lead to costly and complicated repercussions that may take years to sort out. Then, at the end of the process, the state will ultimately decide how your assets are divided amongst your heirs.

A detailed will or trust is the best legacy you can leave your loved ones. After a death, things can get complicated and overwhelming. Shifting between grieving and untangling a messy (large or small) estate can be overwhelming.

Many reasons prevent people from talking about and actually taking the first step toward doing estate planning – procrastination (its hard work!), imagining the world without you in it, wanting to avoid hard conversations, dealing with guardianship issues or stirring up existing family grievances. At the very least, creating a basic outline of what you want to happen to your assets is better than leaving no guidance at all.

If you’re a spreadsheet lover – that’s a great place to start to collect all of the details of your assets. When you are ready for the next step, consider hiring an estate attorney with in-depth knowledge of the laws of the state you reside in.

How to Get Started with Your Estate Plan

Here are some of the basic documents that you need to begin to tackle estate planning. Consider them a launching pad to encouraging family conversations and preparation.

Legal Documents

  • Will
  •  Trust – Though not necessary, many people choose either revocable (changeable) or irrevocable (not-changeable), depending on family and tax situations. If an estate is above the threshold, a revocable trust may be an option.
  • Letter of Instruction
  • Power of Attorney
  • Health Care Proxy, HIPPAA release, organ donation
  • “DNR” or “Do Not Resuscitate” order (this may need to be completed upon each new hospital or nursing home stay)


  • List of all bank accounts
  • List of all user names and passwords
  • List of automatic payment accounts with name and contact information of each payee
  • List of safe-deposit boxes
  • 401(k), 403(b), 457(b) or any employer retirement accounts
  • IRA’s, Roth IRAs
  • Pension documents
  • Annuity contracts
  • Brokerage account information (name, contact phone number and e-mail address)
  • Detailed list of savings bonds (and copies of actual bonds)
  • Life insurance policies (private and through employer)
  • Long Term Care insurance policies

Other Documents

  • Housing, land and cemetery deeds
  • Mortgage accounts
  • Proof of loans made
  • Vehicle title(s)
  • Partnership and corporate operating agreements
  • Previous three year’s tax returns
  • Birth certificates
  • Original death certificates – lots of these! – most institutions want originals not copies. It is so much easier to request them from the funeral home, not after the fact from the city or state
  • Adoption and/or name change documents
  • Marriage license
  • Divorce papers
  • Military discharge information (needed for burial in a military cemetery)
  • List of contact information (contacts on accounts, names, current addresses and Social Security numbers of all people named in the legal documents, as well as the contact information for the estate attorney and CPA who will be handling the estate.)

When all of this hard work is done, you will then need to inform your executor where everything is stored. He/she will work with your attorney and possibly the court system to ensure that the disposition of your assets are in accordance with your wishes. And remember to review your plan when a major life event occurs, such as marriage, birth of a child, divorce, receipt of an inheritance or a death.

There are so many moving parts to doing estate planning and organization is critical. Keeping things secure and stored in one location is a gift that your heirs will be so grateful for and one more reason for them to sing your praises!

Learn More with Clarity

Ready to get your estate plan in order? Click here to connect with a Clarity team member today – we’d be happy to help!

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