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An Estate Planning Checklist for the New Year

As we enter the beginning of a new year, many people are making plans for the future. If you’re setting any New Year’s resolutions, estate planning should be at the top of your list. A sound estate plan is crucial in easing the burden for your loved ones after you’re gone, and it can help you provide for their future financial security as well. We put together this list of ten important estate planning goals you should aim to complete before the end of next year. 

Your 2024 Estate Planning Checklist

1: Write or Review Your Will

If you haven’t yet set up an estate plan, writing a will is a good place to start. A will makes your final wishes known, including who should get your assets. If you already have a will in place, make sure to review it in the new year. There may be new assets you wish to add, or beneficiaries you forgot to remove. 

2: Consider Setting Up a Trust

While having just a will is better than having nothing at all, we recommend including some type of trust in your estate plan as well. Wills are subject to probate, meaning your loved ones will have to deal with a long, expensive court process that often lasts over a year. But since the assets in a trust can skip the probate process, your beneficiaries will be able to collect their inheritance much sooner. 

However, just because a trust is more powerful, having one doesn’t mean a will is unnecessary. A pour-over will is an excellent backup plan for your trust. If you forget to fund your trust with any assets before you pass away, the pour-over will dictates that those assets will automatically transfer to your trust upon your death. 

3: Take an Inventory of Your Assets

You can’t properly protect your estate if you don’t know what it includes. If you haven’t done so already, make a list of all of your tangible and intangible assets. Here’s a brief list of assets your estate may include:

  • Real estate
  • Business shares and investments
  • Family heirlooms
  • Furniture
  • Jewelry
  • Vehicles
  • Bank accounts
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Cryptocurrencies

After putting the list together, determine the value of each item and name the person who you’d like to inherit it. Doing this work ahead of time can make the process of setting up your trust and writing a will go much more smoothly, and ensure that nothing gets left out. Make sure to keep the list with your estate planning documents so your executor can use it to ensure a smooth transition.

4: Designate Beneficiaries

Assets that have designated beneficiaries, such as your retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and bank accounts, automatically avoid probate. It’s important to regularly review these accounts to ensure that they have the correct beneficiary designations and make updates as needed. 

However, you should never use your will or other estate planning documents to update these designations—always update the account directly. These designations supersede the instructions outlined in your will, which may prevent your final wishes from being carried out. 

For example, say your life insurance policy lists your ex-spouse as the beneficiary, but your will dictates that you wish your current spouse to receive the proceeds. Because a beneficiary designation supersedes a will, then your ex-spouse would receive the funds in this case. 

5: Establish Advance Directives

Estate planning is about much more than protecting your assets. It can also ensure that your wishes are upheld if you ever become incapacitated. As you enter into the new year, consider creating a living will and assigning power of attorney to protect your future. 

A living will is a type of advance directive that lays out your wishes regarding medical care, just in case you’re unable to make those decisions on your own. Power of attorney gives someone you trust the authority to make important medical or financial decisions on your behalf. Your power of attorney agent can use your living will to make informed decisions. 

6: Secure Your Digital Assets

A recent study found that the average person has at least 100 different passwords—what happens to all those accounts when you pass away? Many people forget to include this information in their estate plan, making it difficult for loved ones to access financial accounts, cancel or update subscriptions, or deactivate social media profiles after losing a loved one.

It’s a good idea to create a document that contains all of your passwords and account information, then place it in a digital vault to keep it secure. You can name beneficiaries for the digital vault, enabling them to easily access this information after you’re gone.

7: Consider Making Charitable Gifts

Do you enjoy making a difference in your daily life, or want to leave a lasting legacy? You can set up a charitable trust that distributes a portion of your estate to the organization of your choice. You can also leave instructions in your will for making a cash donation to a charity in your name. 

8: Evaluate Your Life Insurance Needs

A good life insurance policy allows you to continue to provide for your loved ones after you’ve passed away. Review your life insurance policy to check that it adequately addresses your current financial circumstances and the needs of your dependents.

If you don’t already have life insurance, you might want to purchase coverage this year. Take factors such as outstanding debts, educational expenses, and ongoing living costs into consideration to determine the level of coverage you should have. 

9: Discuss Your Plan With Your Family

Transparent communication is key to successful estate planning. Be sure to engage in open discussions with your family members about your final wishes, the details of your estate plan, and your reasons behind difficult decisions. Letting your loved ones know what to expect and what you want will prevent family conflicts and disputes over inheritance.

10: Review and Update Your Estate Plan

Estate planning is never a one-and-done process. Even if you’ve already created the documents you need, it’s crucial that you regularly review your estate plan and make updates. Major life events like marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child can call for changes to your estate plan. Updating your documents as soon as life events occur will prevent confusion and conflicts. 

Consult an Estate Planning Professional

A well-thought-out estate plan will not only secure your assets, it will also grant you peace of mind, so you can know that your wishes will be honored. The best way to ensure that your estate plan covers all of your needs is to review it with a professional. The attorneys at Phelps LaClair have been helping Arizona residents create sound estate plans for over 40 years.

Contact us today to schedule a free consultation in Mesa, Chandler, or one of our other Phoenix area locations. 


Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (12/20/2023). Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash 

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